The No. 11/12 Yale men’s hockey team is on an eight-game unbeaten streak, during which the Bulldogs have found the back of the net 21 times. Nearly a third of those goals have come from the stick of just one source: forward John Hayden ’17, whose hands, physicality and consistency have made the Connecticut native one of the Elis’ most invaluable assets in 2015–16.
Not only does Hayden pace the Bulldogs with 10 goals this season, but seven of those tallies, including three game-winners, came in a 10-game stretch when Yale was without injured forward Mike Doherty ’17. The Chicago Blackhawks draftee’s offensive outburst, which has already raised his goal total above that of his first two seasons, minimized the void left by the absence of the Elis’ 2014–15 goal leader.
“[Hayden’s] taken a huge step forward [this year],” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “I think [his] last 10 or 12 games have been his best 10 or 12 for us … He’s a guy who’s learned how to get to spots where he can receive a pass and get a puck to the net quickly.”
Born in 1995 in Chicago, Hayden moved to Denver shortly thereafter. Influenced by a successful University of Denver hockey program and the turn-of-the-century dominance of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, he fell in love with the sport and began playing hockey at just four years old.
After resettling in the Nutmeg State for family reasons, Hayden began his high-school career with a two-year stint at the Brunswick School in Greenwich. During his time there, Hayden began the college recruitment process, and Yale quickly became what Hayden called his “dream school.” The University’s proximity to his home, academic reputation and athletic opportunities all appealed to him, and he committed to Yale the fall of his sophomore year.
“It was a no-brainer,” Hayden said. “Between Coach Allain, the rest of the staff, the academics, the social life, from what I saw and what I heard, it was a really easy decision for me.”
At the same time the Bulldogs were scouting Hayden, so too was USA Hockey. Recruited to join the prestigious USA Hockey National Team Development Program — which competes as a member of the USHL, the pre-eminent American junior league — Hayden moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he stayed with a host family for his last two years of high school.
Following a 15-point campaign for the NTDP U-17 squad, Hayden notched 20 more points in his final season of junior hockey while playing alongside a current teammate, forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18, on the U-18 team. He also contributed to silver medals for the United States in the U-17 World Championship in 2012 and the U-18 World Championship in 2013.
“When we first got there I didn’t know him very well,” Hitchcock said. “He helped me out my first year, and now we’re really good friends. When I was in Ann Arbor, he was able to provide so much help for me.”
Hayden arrived in New Haven in the summer of 2013 — directly after high school — and, as an 18-year-old, was the youngest player in his class by nearly a year. But at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he was also one of the biggest.
That size — along with experience gained playing collegiate teams while on the NTDP U-18 squad — helped smooth the transition between the worlds of junior and collegiate hockey.
“Age goes out the window once you’re [playing college hockey],” Hayden said. “You’re in your class. That’s it. You feel like you’re the same age [as everyone else in your class], and everyone on the team is really close, but your in-class bond is really special.”
By midseason, Hayden found his groove, winning ECAC Player of the Week honors for a four-point mid-January performance at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. He finished his rookie year with 16 points, second among the team’s freshmen.
Now, of the Bulldogs’ five junior skaters, no one has more collegiate points in his career than Hayden — nor more shots, power-play goals or game-winning goals. In his three seasons, Hayden has missed just four games — including none this year.
Following two seasons in which Hayden was sixth on the Bulldogs in points with 16 his freshman year and 18 the next, Hayden is now on pace to break 21.
“I think I’ve had steady development here,” Hayden said. “Coach Allain’s done an incredible job. I owe him a lot of credit because he’s taught me a lot about hockey and the right way to play … And I think the game slows down once you have more experience, [and] so you see more.”
And Hayden also has ties to one more organization: the defending Stanley Cup champions Blackhawks, who hold his professional rights. Before coming to Yale, the forward was chosen in the third round of the 2013 NHL entry draft as the 74th pick overall.
Since his selection, he has attended a week of “intense” Blackhawks training camp each summer, and has continued to receive instruction from the professional franchise throughout his collegiate seasons. But Hayden’s primary focus, he says, is unwaveringly on his current situation, with just over a month left before the Elis begin postseason play.
“[The Blackhawks] have a great staff and they help me … and give me pointers and development tips, and all of that’s helped me,” Hayden said. “But the most important thing for me is staying in the present and focusing on Yale, my team and my teammates here.”
Number 21 and the rest of the Bulldogs next hit the ice on Friday, when they host Union at 7 p.m.