Q & A with John Hayden
Mario Tirabassi: Thanks for being able to do this today, John. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk today.
John Hayden: Yeah, of course, anytime.
MT: To start off, what got you into the sport when you were younger?
JH: I started playing when I lived in Denver, around the age of 5. I idolized the University of Denver hockey players, and obviously the Colorado Avalanche had success. So I guess Denver was the hotbed that got me into it, and I fell in love with the sport from there.
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MT: Did you have a favorite player you grew up idolizing or even wanted to model your game after?
MT: So you’re growing up in Denver, big fan of the Avalanche at that time, when did you realize that having a shot to play at the college level and even in the NHL could be a reality for you?
JH: Well, my family moved to Greenwich, Conn., and I had been to a couple of Yale games and I made that one of my goals. So, I was a sophomore in high school and I was fortunate enough to commit to Yale, and then shortly after that I was offered a spot on the national team in Ann Arbor. So it was in high school that I really made it my goal to play college hockey and then ultimately professional hockey.
MT: Now, you get into the U.S. National program, and 2013 NHL Draft rolls around. Take it back to that time and you’re a highly touted prospect, the Chicago Blackhawks select you in the third round, what was that experience like?
JH: It was incredible. I remember being at the NHL combine in Toronto and meeting with a ton of teams and after finishing the meeting with Chicago, saying to myself, ‘Wow, it would be really special to be drafted here.’
You know, where I was born and where I still have family. An Original Six team that has a lot of success in a championship culture. So when my name was called I was very excited, and I knew I was one step closer to fulfilling my dream.
MT: After you’re drafted then, you head to Yale and you have had a lot of success at the college level. What was one of the big factors in you returning for your senior year? Especially since you had a contract offer from Chicago, what made you want to go back for that last year of college?
JH: I initially decided to go to Yale because it’s the best development option for me and also the best education in the world. Not to mention the incredible social life here.
So, I saw it as a four-year journey and I would have to develop steadily and learn from Coach (Keith) Allain, the rest of the staff and the players around me. It really is a four-year process and I’m very happy with my decision to return for my senior year.
I’m fortunate to be in a leadership position and I think I’ve learned a lot about life, about hockey and really about myself over the last few years and I think it was a really good decision for me to return. You can’t get a year of college back and pro hockey isn’t going anywhere.
MT: Was it tough knowing that the Blackhawks, in the summer, were talking about giving a lot of their younger players bigger roles in the organization this year and then make the decision to go back to school?
JH: It honestly wasn’t. It really was motivating. I don’t want to just play a few games in the NHL. I want to have a long career, and I think it’s important to keep perspective and take a step back to look at the big picture and try to analyze how I can have that long career, and I think the first step in doing that was returning to Yale for development and really learning from and embracing the leadership position.
MT: You said when you were younger, there really wasn’t someone you were modeling your game after. As you have developed over the last few years, you’re a bigger guy, so how do you see your game transferring to the NHL, a league where the game is trending towards a faster pace of play?
JH: Yeah, I’m very fortunate to have the size and strength naturally, and I’ve been addressing skill and speed the last few years. Specifically in the offseason, and I think I have come a long way since getting drafted.
I’ve also learned a ton from the Blackhawks over the summers at development camp and for me, I want to play a game at the pro level that is similar to how I play now. Being a power forward, using my size and strength, contributing offensively with skill and I think my game has really developed from the quickness that I’ve been able to improve upon these last few years. I’m really feeling all of the benefits of that this season.
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MT: What is the Harvard-Yale rivalry like on the ice and what is the atmosphere like for those games?
JH: Obviously, it’s such a special rivalry. We see the football game in the fall and we carry that over when hockey season rolls around.
It’s definitely a game you mark on the calendar. We get them twice in the regular season, and then hopefully in the playoffs. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, and the last few years, games have been pretty tight.
MT: Well, good luck in all the games coming up.
You know, you’re a young college guy and obviously playing an NCAA sport takes up a lot of your time, but when you’re not playing hockey or studying, what do you like to do in your free time?
JH: We’re very fortunate to have a golf course close to campus. A few of us try to escape to the course before the season. This year we had sun and no snow for a pretty long time, so we try to enjoy that and also just what Yale has to offer on campus as far as social life.
I think I’ve been doing a good job of taking advantage of that, and we’re going to try to continue that over the next couple months of our last semester.
MT: Well, John, again good luck to you the rest of the year. Hopefully you guys can have some success deep into the season and make the NCAA tournament, I’m sure that would be a nice way to close out your senior year and once summer rolls around we see you in a Blackhawks uniform.
JH: Yeah, thank you very much. Happy to talk anytime.