EDMONTON, AB - Providence College knows how to play Hawkey.
With one of the best names in the sport, Oilers prospect and goaltender Hayden Hawkey has established himself as one of, if not the best, netminders in Providence Friars men's ice hockey program history with plenty still to play for in his fourth and final year of NCAA eligibility.
The Friars couldn't help themselves from playing Hawkey for all 40 games of the 2017-18 NCAA Hockey East Conference season, where he recorded 24 wins with a 2.04 goals-against average and .919 save percentage while the helping the team to within 30 seconds of an appearance in the NCAA's Frozen Four.
Then, the standard of Hawkey was elevated.
The 24-year-old's numbers improved to a 1.77 GAA and .923 SV% with a record of 21-9-5 this campaign, surpassing the program's old benchmark of 65 wins with his 69th victory in 119 appearances back on the last day of the regular season in a 3-1 victory over Boston College.
"Obviously, there's still games here and there that you want back," Hawkey admitted.
Hawkey gave up only 14 goals in 12 games for a Friars team that went 8-2-2 in the final stretch to playoffs to earn the second seed in the Hockey East Tournament that begins this Friday with a quarter-final matchup against Boston College.
Having a shot at the conference title is a spot the crease guardian and other seniors have been before on multiple occasions after making the tournament in each of his four years at Providence.
"Looking back at the previous three years, the biggest thing I've been able to learn and take away each day has been the experience I've had playing in all types of situations," Hawkey said. "You learn a lot from the successes you've had, and even more from the mistakes you've made in the past."
"I think the reason we feel we're ready is because of the steps we've taken throughout the year. They've got a lot of talent and so do we. It's not easy to end a team's season, so you know you're going to get their absolute best."
What the NCAA lacks in quantity, it more than makes up in quality.
In a shortened 40-game season, you can learn plenty about your opponents by playing against many of the same players you've seen over four seasons in meaningful, impactful games.
"There are no off games, especially in college only playing 40 games in a season," Hawkey said. "Each game is so important to the standings and how the playoff picture looks that every team is bringing it every night."
"You get a sense of comfortability with the teams you're playing against, so you know what to expect and that makes it more competitive. In junior, you're playing almost a whole new team every year, but we're playing the same core group of guys for two or three years. You know every weekend is going to be a battle.
Hawkey was drafted in the sixth round, 177th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2014 before having his rights acquired by the Oilers in June. The trade linked Hawkey up in the organization with teammate and fellow Oilers prospect Vincent Desharnais, who's played a key role on defence in front of him this season with a plus-22 plus/minus rating.
"He's great. He's just a solid, solid d-man," Hawkey said of his teammate. "He's in the same class as me, so four years we've been together and you learn so much about a guy. To see how much he's grown in the last four years has been amazing. Now seeing the role he has on this team as a leader and just as a guy who can be thrown out there in any situation to help the team and succeed, is awesome. He's a great guy and I'm looking forward to the chance of maybe playing with him after this year."
Before he can make the jump to pro next season, there's unfinished business for Hawkey as he focuses on winning the conference title and NCAA championship that's eluded him.
"It's a jump that I've waited my whole life to make," Hawkey said. "It's something I'm more than excited for, but right now I just want to win something. Get a ring on the finger and do it with the guys here. We're so close like that with the hours we've spent together and the work we've put in.
"I don't want to look too far ahead because I owe it to these guys to finish this year strong."