Beginning with the New Year, the Blizzard took down the division’s first-, second- and third-place teams to bypass the New Ulm Steel and take a lead in the race for the NA3HL’s most difficult playoff berth to earn, that of the fourth team in the strong seven-team division.
Kyle Hayden thrived on a set of assignments that could make a goalie anxious, earning NA3HL Goaltender of the Month honors for January by leading the surge.
The Blizzard is 9-1 in the New Year, including 8-1 during the month of January.
Hayden’s workload was not large in volume, but it was highly demanding. He won all five of his January starts, including the last four in succession against higher-ranked teams in a nine-day stretch.
Hayden was the winning goalie in a 3-2 overtime victory over the division-leading Granite City Lumberjacks. He capped his only assignment of games on consecutive days with a road shutout to complete a home-and-home sweep of the second-place Rochester Steel. Hayden then finished the month by stopping 36 of 37 shots in a 4-1 victory over the North Iowa Bulls, who currently sit in third place but have won three of the past six Fraser Cup titles.
“The Granite City games are always big games for us because they’re number one in the division and they’re powerhouses almost every single year,” Hayden said. “It’s close to us.
“It’s only an hour drive, so it’s a pretty good rivalry we have with them. It’s always a fun game to play with them and getting the win was really great.”
Granite City-Alexandria games are a chance for Hayden, in his second year with the team, to go against many of the players he played with and against in Minnesota high school hockey. The Lumberjacks lineup includes forwards Blake Spetz and Jordan Drobinski, who played with Hayden at St. Michael-Albertville.
The North Iowa game is special to Hayden’s current teammates, which include Ike Taraszewski and Wesley Johnson, who played for the Bulls earlier this season, and Tucker Kruse, who was on the team last year.
“Again, they’re a perennial power and they’re always strong,” Hayden said. “We were 1-4 against them.”
Hayden reversed some of those trends by posting a 0.99 goals against average and .963 save percentage during the month.
On the season, Hayden is 12-7 with three shutouts, a 2.56 GAA and a .913 save percentage.
Those numbers improved greatly during the past month for Hayden, who is in his second junior season after being a three-sport athlete throughout high school.
Hayden was a three-year varsity baseball player as a shortstop, pitcher and third baseman, making the state tournament as a sophomore and serving as team captain in his junior and senior seasons.
As an undersized quarterback, who had played football since fourth grade, Hayden was a back-up, playing junior varsity in a state championship program as a junior, before switching positions for his senior season.
It took until high school for Hayden to know that hockey would be the sport he would pursue into the future, using juniors as a transition to the hopes of playing in college.
Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Hayden got a chance to play in the Minnesota High Performance League and got an indication that he could compete with the state’s best.
While choosing one sport may have been difficult, Hayden had no problem choosing his hockey position.
Hayden’s uncle Randy Cota, his mother’s younger brother, played goalie at Cooper High School and Hayden enjoyed watching him play as a youngster.
“Neither of my parents played hockey,” Hayden said. “… I used to be in the living room as a 3- or 4-year-old asking my parents to shoot balls at hockey pucks at me.”
Now, Hayden eagerly faces the best shots the NA3HL’s top offense have to offer.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.