Humble Beginnings

It would seem that Kyle Hayton was born to be a goaltender, just as Gavin Bayreuther must have been emulating Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr while learning to play on the outdoor rinks his dad built growing up in Maine, Denver, and later, New Hampshire. However, that wouldn’t be a fitting way to begin the hockey careers of two players now nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best player in all of college hockey each season. No, the stories of two of the best players in college hockey are a bit different than that.

For a goalie who seems to be right at home between the pipes at Appleton Arena, doling out mile-high salutes and flashy glove saves, Kyle Hayton’s hockey beginnings lie outside of the crease. Being a goalie, at least prior to his first game in net, was not Kyle’s plan, but the world has a funny way of putting people in the right spot at the right time. When his team’s starting goalie failed to show up for a game when he was 7, his coach, and father, decided Kyle would be the one to step in.

Most stories like that might go something like this: “My dad stuck me in, and I’d never played before… we lost, but it was a blast, and from that point on, I was hooked.” But it just wouldn’t seem right for that to be the story of Kyle Hayton, because Kyle Hayton isn’t your standard-issue starting goaltender. In his first career start, the man who now owns the record at St. Lawrence for most career shutouts did exactly what you would expect him to: posted a shutout. And of course, from that point on, he was hooked.  

“I went in, got a shutout, and I’ve been playing goalie ever since. I love playing goalie. I think it’s the best position in all of sports, so I’m definitely glad that my dad decided to put me in there,” said Hayton with a laugh. So are we, Kyle. So are we.

That moment was pivotal in the career of Hayton, as was the man behind it. Kyle’s dad, a soccer goalie, and a darn good one in his own right, not only made the call that put Hayton between the pipes, but also tirelessly supported Hayton as he honed his craft, and they still talk before and after almost every game.

As his career progressed, Hayton was forced to make a difficult decision: hockey, or soccer? He was good enough to play both at Shattuck St. Mary’s, the same prep high school in Minnesota that produced Jonathan Toews, among many others, but that wasn’t an option… he had to choose one and run, or skate, with it. Luckily for Saints fans, he chose hockey, and went on to lead Shattuck to a pair of national championships. It’s safe to say they’re glad he chose skates over cleats too.

The future for elite high school hockey players often involves one of two leagues: the CHL or the NCAA. It’s the mother of all hockey debates: Canadian Juniors or College Hockey? For Hayton, a Denver native, Colorado College fan, and son of a teacher, the debate was over quickly. His mom always emphasized the importance of an education, and though he talked with a few WHL teams, college was always the destination.

After a few years in the USHL, Hayton arrived in Canton, and instantly made an indelible mark on the program and its fans. He won 20 games his first season, followed with 19 in his sophomore year and he’s added 15 more this season. He’s had each of his mile-high salutes returned tenfold by rabid fans, who love nothing more than watching him mix it up with opponents after the whistle or dive across the crease to make a save he had no business making. He returns their love with save after save, and the occasional fly-by of the student section post game, just to get them cheering a little bit louder. He’s embraced the fans, and they’ve embraced him.

The Hobey is just the latest in a rather extensive list of accolades Hayton has acquired since his impromptu debut as a 7-year-old, but despite this level of sustained success, Hayton has remained modest, and dedicated to team success. There was no doubt, and even a tinge of surprise, when he was asked whether winning the Hobey or an ECAC championship would mean more…

“Oh definitely the ECAC championship. It’s a team thing. Championships are what we work for, but the Hobey Baker would be a nice addition,” said Hayton without missing a beat. “It’s a dream come true, and we’ll see what happens, but I’m definitely excited to be nominated.”

Gavin Bayreuther, the Saints other nominee, isn’t known for his ability to stop the puck. Rather, the senior from Canaan, New Hampshire has mastered the art of shooting the puck. For those of us lucky enough to have seen him unleash his booming shot from the point, it’s difficult not to marvel at the precision with which he can deliver a puck moving at such speeds. Most defenseman aren’t able to do this, at least not with the consistency with which #7 does, but Bayreuther can, and has, to the tune of 107 career points, 25 of which have come this season.  

But, just as Hayton didn’t begin his hockey career as a goaltender, Bayreuther wasn’t always a defenseman. Growing up, Bayreuther was a forward, which allowed him to hone his offensive skills before moving back to defense in seventh grade.

“I was at Cardigan Mountain School, and that’s what the team needed, defensemen. It seemed like the best decision at the time,” said the senior of his switch to defense.  “My dad was also one of the coaches of the team, so it was kind of one of those mutual things, like ‘Hey kid, you’re playing defense.”

Nine years after the switch, the St. Lawrence record for career goals by a defenseman belongs to Bayreuther, and he intends to add to the 34 he’s already scored. Goal scoring has become his trademark, but more specifically, important goals in big moments, like the playoffs last season.

“When you look at what Gavin Bayreuther did at the end of the last year to knock off Clarkson, he’s just one of those guys who has the ability to score a big goal at the right time. He seems to thrive on that,” coach Morris said, in reference to Bayreuther’s double overtime goal that propelled SLU past Clarkson to their second straight appearance in Lake Placid.

Bayreuther has also scored the tying goal in each of the last two ECAC quarterfinals to send each game to overtime. His goal to tie the game against Cornell last year at Appleton, before Joe Sullivan scored just 20 seconds into overtime to win the game, remains one of my favorite memories of SLU hockey.

All these statistics help tell the story of why Bayreuther can count himself among the nominees for the Hobey, but a less flashy number shows why Bayreuther means so much to the Saints. Over the course of his first three seasons in Canton, the Skating Saints played 112 games, and the New Hampshire native appeared in all 112 of them. And you can bet the cost of your next drink at the Hoot Owl that he played at least 20 minutes of consistent play. Until a wrist injury cost him seven games this season, Bayreuther played every single game he could play in, and gave all he had every night.

After 137 games in the Scarlet and Brown, Bayreuther’s drive to compete, and win, is as strong as the day he stepped foot on campus, but the time to hang a banner from the rafters of Appleton Arena is running out. The Saints have been close the past two years, losing in overtime in the ECAC quarterfinals to Colgate in 2015, and again in overtime to Harvard in 2016. The Saints also sat atop the ECAC as recent as four weeks ago, and while they’re out of the running for a regular season title now, the ECAC tournament, and its coveted auto-bid to the national tournament, awaits any and all challengers, and the Saints are more than willing to fight for it.

Perhaps that is why Bayreuther, like Hayton, is undistracted by the increased pressure and attention that comes hand in hand with being a Hobey Baker nominee. The goal is, and always has been, adding a seventh ECAC championship banner to the rafters of Appleton. Team success. Just like Hayton, Bayreuther is a great player because he is a great teammate.

“When you go into our locker room, you don’t see anything about the Hobey, or personal stuff, you see the years they’ve won an ECAC championship,” said Bayreuther.  “The program, and community here, you don’t focus on that, it’s all team oriented. That’s what so special about St. Lawrence hockey.”

And, as any good teammate does, Bayreuther credited his fellow players, and his Hobey-nominated goaltender, for helping him become the player he is.  

“I don’t think I’d be in the conversation for this award without him, the number of times he’s saved my ass,” Bayreuther laughed. Hayton returned the favor, speaking of Bayreuther’s ability to affect the game in all three zones.

Of course, skill alone does not make players great. Kyle Hayton didn’t just wake up one morning with the ability to make the acrobatic diving saves that wow the crowds of Appleton, and Gavin Bayreuther definitely didn’t buy his slap-shot from the local hockey store. They worked at hockey, on and off the ice, and they worked hard, something their head coach sees them continue to do on a day-to-day basis.

Whether it’s Hayton constantly studying video of goals he allowed to strengthen his game, or the endless hours Bayreuther spent on the ice alone with a coach to work his way back from injury, they both put in the time required to be great, and both have been rewarded.

What makes players like Gavin and Kyle stand out isn’t just their performances on the ice, but also the way they handle themselves once the final buzzer goes. Their statistics may indicate how good they are at hockey, but it is their humility that shows what kind of people they are.    

“They’re not boastful… even if Kyle like to celebrate after a win,” Morris laughed. “I think, for the most part, they’re humble, and that’s a trademark of people who become successful and endear themselves to a lot of people.”

Endearing and successful is a good way to describe this particular pair of Saints. They got to this point in different ways, Bayreuther via the frozen outdoor rinks his dad built while he was growing up, from The Cardigan Mountain School to the USHL and Hayton from the soccer pitch and the Colorado College Junior Tigers to Shattuck and the USHL. They are different players, with very different paths, who have won many games and the adoration of St. Lawrence fans. Two players well deserving of their nominations.

If either player was to win, they would be worthy of the recognition, but before they announce the winners, Hayton, Bayreuther, and the rest of the Saints have a different task ahead of them, with crucial games against Dartmouth and Harvard upcoming, before the playoffs begin. The team’s focus is on wins, and trophies, but fans should take time to realize the magnitude of Gavin and Kyle’s accomplishment. It’s not a common thing, to be nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, nor is it common to have to record-breaking players at SLU at the same time. Get out and vote for both in the fan poll, and make sure that they get the recognition they deserve. They’ll take care of the wins.  

 

Vote for Gavin and Kyle in Hobey fan vote: http://www.hobeybaker.com/vote 

Vote for Gavin in the Senior CLASS Award: http://www.seniorclassaward.com/vote/hockey_2016-17/