Hayton stars in net for Badgers in 7-3 win

Kyle Hayton was in key in Wisconsin's 7-3 win over Michigan. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Coming into this season, the Badgers felt like they had a legitimate shot to win a national championship. A big reason for those high expectations: incoming graduate transfer goaltender Kyle Hayton.

Wisconsin thought that by adding the 2016-’17 All-American, Hayton would give it a consistent, dominant presence in net that would propel it higher than its ceiling last season. For Hayton, the opportunity to play at UW not only allowed him a chance to win more frequently than he did at St. Lawrence, but by transferring to a school with national attention, also served as an NHL tryout of sorts for the undrafted goalie.

Unfortunately for Hayton, that tryout has not fully gone as planned. Hayton has been good so far but has not been dominant in the way that he had hoped. Hayton only boasts a .900 save percentage (which is by no means bad, but Hayton is extremely competitive and expects more of himself), and although he has looked dominant at times, he hasn’t brought that consistent electrifying presence that he or the Badgers hoped for.

Friday night, however, Hayton showed just what he is capable of.

The No. 9 Badgers (3-2-0 Big Ten, 8-5-1 overall) ultimately beat No. 17 Michigan (2-2-1, 6-4-1) 7-3, and although it is hard to pinpoint the goaltender as the reason for a victory when the offense buries seven goals (and when the goalie lets in three), the game would have been much different without Hayton.

“Kyle was good. Kyle was really good,” head coach Tony Granato said. “They had some really good chances at key points in the game, and he made big saves for us. I thought he was really solid.”

Hayton faced 37 shots and surrendered three goals. Although that only amounts to a .919 save percentage, he dealt with a multitude of grade-A chances and could have easily let in more than that even just halfway through the game.

Specifically, Michigan passed the puck extremely well. It created at least five breakaways, and Hayton stood the test on all of them.

When opponents break free, Hayton usually comes out and challenges them incredibly confidently. That confidence allows him to make great saves on those tough chances.

“As a goalie you have to like the big moments, so yeah I like breakaways,” Hayton said. “It’s just like I love shootouts, so I’ll take [the breakaways].”

Early in the game, a shot by a Michigan player bounced off the boards and came in front of the net. But Hayton remained unphased.

These plays are not easy for goalies, as they have to turn their body around and slide back to the post to save a quick shot. But Hayton dedicates that particular save to practice preparation and showed how in the zone he was, making a difficult save seem mundane.

“We train all week for those kind of plays. Crease work, movements, that’s what we do as goalies. Those plays, we’re ready for those because the work we’ve done,” Hayton said. “The more you get them though, the sharper you get. The more shots you get [in a game], the more involved in the play you are and you feel it more. Everything feels clearer.”

Still, the biggest thing about Hayton that gets recognized by members of the UW is his competitiveness. When Hayton is clearly battling, even hitting opponents in front, that’s when he’s himself and at his best.

“He’s a competitor in practice and the guys do love that,” Granato said. “You love playing for a goaltender who’s a competitor like that. You can see it when people get around his net — he’s not afraid to push back and get in their face. He’s a competitor.”

Going forward, if UW is going to keep beating teams like Michigan and maintain its goal of becoming national contenders, Hayton will need to be as big as Granato thought he was tonight.

“I think goaltending was the big difference in the game.”

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