While it has been a summer of camping for current Yale University forward and Chicago Blackhawks prospect John Hayden, it hasn’t been a case of fun and frolic in the great outdoors as it is for most people.
Instead, Hayden has spent time indoors competing on a sheet of ice against players in his own age group, first at the Chicago Blackhawks prospect camp back in mid-July, and currently at USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY.
But, while the Greenwich, CT native might be missing out on some of the summer fun that others in his age group might be having, he is mindful of the fact that the time spent at these camps is important for his future, a future that could include competing in the NHL.
“I think these camps are invaluable,” said Hayden. “All of these camps have a ton of coaching staff who contribute to your game, and when you’re at these camps, you take what you learn into the Fall, for me, at Yale. I’ve been to the two Chicago camps, and this is my second World Junior camp, so I’ve learned from all of this.”
At Team USA‘s evaluation camp for the 2015 U20 World JuniorChampionship squad, Hayden has had the opportunity to compare his game against players from his peer group, both from the U.S. as well as from Sweden and Finland. The value in that type of competition has not been lost on him.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” commented Hayden. “It was good having a year experience under my belt – I was here last year and that helped a lot, I learned a lot last year. Obviously, the competition is very strong here, so you want to come in and see how you are against other guys, especially the other teams because, in the end, those are the guys that the World Junior team will be playing in December and January and you want to get a feel for that. And then obviously, you want to learn as much as you can from the coaching staff.”
And, while Hayden feels that he has competed well at this year’s NJEC, he knows that there is some room for improvement in his game.
“I think I can do a few things a lot better, and I’m going to try to work on a few details in the next few games,” stated Hayden. “The coaches are giving me feedback and you want to learn from them so you can try to improve over the course of the week. Obviously, the plan for all the players here is to improve and get better, and by the end of the week hopefully come out a better player.”
Once summer turns to fall, Hayden will head back to New Haven, CT to compete for Yale. Hayden’s freshman season followed a season in which the Bulldogs won NCAA Hockey’s national championship, but the team was not able to repeat that feat in 2013-14. Instead, Yale’s season ended at the hands of the school they had defeated in the 2013 Frozen Four championship game, Quinnipiac University.
Despite the disappointing ending to his school’s season, Hayden is confident about the future, both from a coaching and personnel standpoint.
“The program’s come a long way,” Hayden commented. “Coach (Keith) Allain does an unbelievable job, obviously Coach (Tim) Taylor did a great job, as well. We had a disappointing year last year; we lost three great players, but we have a good class coming in and I think we’re going to have a great year. We’re a hard-working team, we train hard, and I like the looks of the squad in the future.”
At 6’3” and 209 pounds, Hayden has the build of the prototypical NHL power forward, so it is no surprise that his description of his playing style matches the job description associated with that type of player.
“I’d say I’m a power forward,” Hayden agreed. “I try to combine the physical game with skill. I like to be in the corners, play gritty there and in front of the net, just get my feet moving and make plays. The combination of size and skill is something I work on every day.”
As with any player that has advanced in his career as Hayden has, the goal is to eventually arrive in the NHL, in his case, with the Blackhawks. But he also knows that there is work to be done once this latest camp is completed, and that there is a natural progression in reaching his goal of playing in hockey’s top league.
“I have a lot of goals,” said Hayden. “I think our squad at Yale is capable of winning every trophy that we’re in contention for. We have a great coaching staff, great players. And then personally, I want to make this (WJC) team, then we all here want to make it to the National Hockey League, but it’s more of a take it year-by-year thing. I’m here and focused on USA Hockey, then in the Fall I’m focused on Yale. I think taking it year by year is the best way to do it and not try to get too far ahead of yourself.”
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