Hayton's New Place
Former St. Lawrence Star Faces Old Teammates This Weekend
When Friday night falls, Kyle Hayton will be in an unfamiliar spot. He should have been on the other side, on the plane taking off from St. Lawrence to Wisconsin, on the bus ferrying the visiting team to the colossal Kohl Center.
He should have been, but he won’t be.
Instead, Hayton will be dressed in crisp red, skating as the goaltender for the home Wisconsin Badgers. And he’ll be facing off against his former team.
“There are a lot of people trying to get different angles as to how this weekend will be,” Badgers head coach Tony Granato said. “Did he run away from St. Lawrence or what happened, why did he leave? Out of respect to Kyle there was an opportunity there that he was presented because he worked hard enough in school to get himself that opportunity, and we were happy to have him."
Hayton, then a junior, learned late last spring term, as the hockey season was winding down, that he was academically advanced enough to graduate early. His advisor reached out to the Badgers notifying them of the situation and, once Hayton received permission from the Saints, a dialogue between the parties started.
"It just kind of fell into my lap a little bit, the way it happened,” Hayton said.
Hayton visited the school and liked the campus, the city, the coaching staff and the program’s improvement under Granato.
For Granato, Hayton’s call was nothing short of a blessing. For nearly four seasons the Badgers struggled to find solid goaltending, a position placed more in jeopardy with a revolving roster and a slew of inexperienced players. The Badgers were getting better and becoming more skilled once again, but the netminder position wasn’t what it used to be.
"From a recruiting standpoint, you recruit kids that you think can help your program win and that will be player that will fit into what you're trying to do as a program,” Granato said. “To get a [player] that has three years experience that has the numbers and the experience that he has, to add to your depth at the goaltender position, it was a great call to get and obviously as coaches we were really excited that potentially he'd be on campus come fall semester."
The graduate transfer left St. Lawrence after being named the ECAC Goaltender of the Year by both the league and media. He was also a Hobey Baker Award nominee and a Second-Team All-American who was on the ECAC All-Academic team. As a freshman, he was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year.
Last season, Wisconsin used a platoon of Matt Jurusik and Jack Berry, who posted modest save percentages of .882 and .898, respectively. But Jurusik returned to juniors once the season ended, leaving the team with sophomore Berry.
When Hayton joined, Granato knew he would be the starter.
"You're getting an elite player,” Granato said. "You're getting an all-star and you're getting an all-American that's going to jump into your net and we welcome that.”
The Big Ten itself has faced a shortage of goaltending, and Hayton’s arrival instantly catapulted him to the top of the crease protectors. The league relies on powerful offenses laden with skill, but lacks solid defenses and stellar goaltending. But the ECAC, Hayton’s former league, prides itself on stingy defense play and good goaltending.
"I'd say the ECAC is more it's a grinder league, I'd say the Big Ten is very skilled, they’re offensive driven,” Hayton said.
Granato said Hayton won’t face an issue adjusting to the different style of league play. He opened his Big Ten competition by facing the high-powered Ohio State offense, allowing five goals on the weekend. He started six of the team’s first seven games, helping the Bagers to four wins.
"It took a little getting used to,” Hayton said. “I left all my friends of three years back at St Lawrence, so it was a bit tough. It was the thing I was most nervous about, coming to a new team, meeting all new people, not knowing anyone. It was a little tough but it was actually a lot easier than i thought it would be. This group of guys has been unbelievable and really took me in right away.”
Not only do the conferences play different styles of hockey, but the schools themselves vary vastly. Where St. Lawrence is a small school of less than 3,000 undergraduates, Wisconsin’s sprawling urban campus has over 40,000 students.
“It’s a difference from me walking about 200 feet to class compared to walking a mile and a half across campus to get to my classes; it's a little different,” Hayton said. “I’m in a graduate program so it's a little different than the rest of the guys on the team. I actually have night classes here and it's been a little hard to adjust to, but I've gotten used to it now. [It’s just] a lot of papers and a lot of writing."
Hayton is in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis program, where he’s concentrating on athletic administration and career paths like general managing and athletic directing. It’s a good fit for someone who was an economics and business major from St. Lawrence.
“I've always been interested in being a general manager, managing a team like that,” Hayton said. “Using my economic skills that I learned from SLU that would be useful to go into some type of financial side of athletic administration, so that's kind of what I was looking at."