MONTREAL — If Canadiens goaltending prospect Hayden Hawkey had a dime for every time someone has reminded him how his name relates to his sport. …
“I’d have a couple million by now,” Hawkey says, completing the sentence with a laugh. “It’s good, though. I’m just glad I don’t play soccer.”
Hawkey, 19, is one of five netminders at the Habs’ five-day development camp in Brossard, going through an exhaustive week of practice, scrimmages, fitness testing, off-ice work and meetings.
He was the Canadiens’ sixth-round pick at last month’s entry draft in Philadelphia (177th overall), returning this fall for a final season with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.
In 2015, he’ll play for Providence College while he hits the books, thinking he’ll head down a road toward a degree in business, economics or political science.
But this week, Hawkey’s future takes a back seat to his present.
“From Day 1, the coaches have said, ‘You’re here for development and we’re here to help you out. This is not exactly evaluation, it’s more development. We want to see you guys progress.’
“So we’ve been working on everything. More specifically, for me, it’s rebound control and following pucks.”
Hawkey enjoyed a tremendous season with the Lancers in 2013-14, named the USHL’s top goaltender in a vote of league general managers and coaches.
He went 22-6-3 with a league-leading 1.99 goals-against average, the first time in the USHL’s 12-year Tier 1 history that a netminder had cracked 2.00. That, and his league-best .926 save percentage with three shutouts, probably flagged his Canadiens scouting file.
Hawkey was sitting at home the day of the NHL draft, “kinda hopeful,” he recalled.
“I was online like everyone else,” he said. “I knew a bunch of my friends would go (in the draft) and I was on the phone with one of my buddies when I saw a call coming from my agent.
“He said, ‘Hey, congrats!’ and I said, ‘On what?’
“ ‘You’ve been drafted!’ he told me and I said, ‘No, I haven’t.’ The webpage hadn’t loaded yet. He just said, ‘Trust me, I’m in Philadelphia. You’ve gone to the Canadiens.’ I was pretty ecstatic.
“Then I had a call from one of their scouts who said I’d hear something real quick. Within an hour or so, personnel services was on the phone telling me I was coming to this camp.”
Hawkey had spoken to a couple of Canadiens scouts a month or two before the draft, having done an interview or two with them but without a firm idea that he might be in their plans.
Some sources say he is from Fremont, Calif., not far from San Jose. Others list him from Parker, Colo. If he was indeed born in Fremont, he wasn’t there beyond age 1 before his family moved to Chicago, where he lived for a dozen years before heading west to Denver.
So Chicago is home, in his view, the city where he first played goal at age 5 or 6, doubling as a defenceman until he was 8 or 9, skating on the blue line at a higher level before he settled back in nets, loving the position too much to give it up.
Hawkey loved the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche and most recently the Blackhawks, naming Chicago legend Glenn Hall as his all-time favourite goalie.That is impressive for a teenager, who plays a little of the butterfly style pioneered by Hall in the 1950s.“I just stop the puck, you know?” he joked. “Usually I’m a butterfly guy but I’ll do whatever I can to get in front of it and keep it out of the net.”
The Canadiens, he said, “are obviously my favourite team now,” knocking the Blackhawks down to No. 1A.
“I’ve always been a Habs fan — in the playoffs, it’s the Habs in the East, the Blackhawks in the West.”
The Canadiens are in no rush to move Hawkey up their depth chart, telling the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder that he’s a “five-year guy. Hopefully, I’ll make that three or four years.
“I knew I wasn’t going to come in and take Carey Price’s job after this camp,” he said lightly. “I’m here to get better, to develop. This is my first pro camp, and I want to get more comfortable with myself and the atmosphere here.”
With the Lancers, Hawkey will return to good quality hockey that might be a step slower than what he’s seeing this week but a brand that is fiercely competitive, stocked with players who every night are fighting both for their ice-time and their hockey and academic futures.
“Our fan base is unreal,” he said of Omaha. “Our rink holds 3,500 and we’ll fill it every night. They’re great to us and it’s a great atmosphere.
“The hockey is pretty quick, fast paced, a quick transition game, a good down-low game, the shots are pretty good and they move the puck well. Guys here this week are a little quicker but with age and experience, that will come.”
For now, Hawkey is drinking in every moment of Montreal, each experience during his first visit to this city a puck absorbed without rebound. He’s even been able to put a bit of his four years of French study to use, even if he’s finding what’s spoken here spills out much more quickly than it did in school.
“Everyone’s been nice, welcoming,” Hawkey said. “There are no dirty looks because I’m American. People are pretty open. They speak English to me and if I try to speak French, they’ll accommodate me.”
It’s all part of being a member of the Canadiens family, a crash course in being a pro in this distinct society while getting a feel for the rich history of his new franchise.
“You kinda look at the numbers guys are wearing at camp and realize they can’t wear anything (lower) since those numbers are all retired,” Hawkey said, shaking his head.
“This all just gives you chills. It’s unbelievable history like no other team in the sport.”
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