Hayden Lavigne is currently reading a mystery book. It should come to no one's surprise, though. After all, he’s a bit of a mystery himself.
Talk to people around Lavigne and two common themes emerge. One is that he’s a serious, intense guy. Two is that no one can ever tell what he’s thinking — he’s just an enigma.
“He’s very closed-book, he’s very — he doesn’t show a lot of emotions, he doesn’t reveal a lot about himself,” said Lavigne’s mother Julie. “He can be taken the wrong way sometimes, he doesn't show excitement, it used to drive me nuts. Like, ‘Aren’t you excited?’ ‘Yeah, I'm excited.’ He doesn't outwardly show it.”
As Michigan coach Mel Pearson puts it, “You win, there’s Hayden. You lose, there’s Hayden.”
And it’s hard for the goalie to express himself. His emotions are stashed under a mask and his body language locked away in a stance. But, if you want to know what he’s feeling, you just have to ask.
“Other guys will give you an answer,” said goaltender coach Steve Shields. “And they’ll make sure it’s something that’s an acceptable answer, but Hayden will just say what he feels. He’s real.”
A few years back, National Hockey League goaltender coach Mitch Korn, now coaching his 27th year, came to Michigan to talk with the team. He gave them the regular spiel on the league. But then he asked, “Why do you think you’re going to be in the NHL one day?”
The team answered with the answers everyone wanted to hear, the ones that wouldn’t spark any controversy if overheard. But Lavigne made his intent clear.
He responded simply: “I don’t know; I just know I will.”
Hayden Lavigne was born April 7, 1996 in Brampton, Ontario.
From a young age — three-years-old — he made up his mind on what he wanted to do. He let his mom know that he wanted to be on skates, that he wanted to play hockey.
Despite that desire catching her off guard, Julie tried to get him on a team. But it was too late for him by the time she found a team of children his age.
“I know some kids who started when they were four, I think by the time I asked they were full and they wouldn’t take him,” Julie said.
So when Lavigne turned five, Julie took him one more time to try and join a recreational team. At this point in his childhood, he had to make a decision. He dabbled in snowboarding and biking, but Julie thought it was time he chose one sport to focus on.
“Even when he was young, he had to choose what he was gonna focus on because any rec sport, you can’t do more than one rec sport,” Julie said. “There’s not enough hours in the day.”
Around the same time he chose hockey, Lavigne fell in love with being a goaltender.
Lots of players don’t choose to be a goalie by default. Many find that it’s due to a gear — the ability to be different, as Shields noted. Others find it due to a lack of staking ability. But for Lavigne, it was different.
“Now the best athletes are the goalies,” Shields said. “Lots of goalies had a similar thing, where they had a chance to play when they were younger or they really, some kids just like that position. You don’t think about that when you’re young, and you’re out there playing goal and stopping pucks.”
And it’s as simple as that. Lavigne didn’t find out about the gears or the pressure until later. He just loved being goalie, because he thought it gave him the best chance to win.
“He perceived that winning was under his control,” Julie said. “So, it was easy. Just stop the pucks.”
She said her and Jeff Lavigne, Hayden’s father, actively tried to convince him to switch positions. Seeing other hockey parents doing the same with their children only offered assurance. But Lavigne stuck with goaltending.
The decision was largely to the credit of a coach of a six-year-old rec team.
“(He) saw him playing once and said he wanted him as the goalie,” Julie said. “Saw him play once as the goalie. Like, at five years old, they had to rotate it, but I remember that the coach of the rec team (watched) the five-year-olds play and said, ‘I want him as my goalie.’
“And I said, ‘Well, could he come try out as a player?’ And he said, ‘Well, he could, but I really want him as my goalie.’ I said, ‘You saw him play once, and he doesn’t even get a shot!’ I mean, they could hardly skate! He goes, ‘Yes, he was very focused.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’ But anyway, that was the start of it. He wanted it, and the coach wanted him, so that was how he started.”
Lavigne differed from most of his teammates though. For one, he had other hobbies outside of hockey.
“When you’re in minor hockey, it’s hockey 24/7, seven days a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year, almost,” Julie said. “And I think people, some people, will say, ‘You gotta get off the ice, you gotta do other things.’ But when you’re going to minor hockey and everybody’s doing it, you kind of just do it.”
Minor hockey is an amateur league just below juniors. Even though it is less competitive in nature than other hockey leagues, it was serious enough to warrant national tournaments and regional championships.
So while many dedicated most of their time to the sport, Lavigne found his time divided between other things he loved. Jeff would take him out to hunt at an early age and developed a love of the outdoors.
Lavigne enjoyed games of tags while continuing to snowboard, hunt and mountain bike, despite pleas from his coaches.
But when he approached the age of 10, he faced a similar decision to the one he saw when he was five. This time, it carried a lot more weight. He was contemplating giving up hockey for a bit to try competitive snowboarding. Julie told him he couldn’t
“He toyed with giving up hockey for a year, just because you can’t do both competitive sports,” Julie said. “But, like any other athlete, they’re really good at almost any sport they try, right?
“So, he toyed with wanting to be a pro snowboarder as well, or a competitive snowboarder, but he decided to stick with hockey in case — there’s a risk, right?”
The risk of injuries are always present, but it was the risk of lagging behind that threatened Lavigne the most.
“You leave one sport to do another and then you wanna come back, and all of the sudden, you can’t get in at the same level,” Julie said. “And it would probably be true with hockey.”
So in order to keep up with his peers and minimize the risk of injury, Lavigne gave up two of his hobbies for good. No more Christmas-time snowboarding or summer-time mountain biking.
It left a hole in Lavigne — even with more time dedicated to hockey. But when he moved up to junior hockey level, with the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League, he adopted a new hobby — fishing.
“I got into it my first year in the USHL,” Lavigne said. “We were done playing pretty early, and I had to stay down there to finish high school, and there were a lot of small ponds and not really a whole lot to do, because we were in a really small town in Nebraska, so I kind of got into fishing that way.”
For a goalie, patience is a large aspect of the game. Move too early, and the attacking opponent could have an empty net to score on. Move too late, and the reaction to the puck might not be on time. So by picking up fishing, an activity that relies heavily on patience, Lavigne used it to better his skills on the ice.
But the hobby held a higher importance than just improving an aspect of his game.
“I think more than my patience, it’s helped me relax on the ice and realize that it’s just a game. I tend to get very tense and frustrated, and fishing was kind of a big outlet for me and how to just kinda let that go,” Lavigne said. “Like when I was on the water, it was like, ‘Okay, well I don’t have to do anything except fish.’ ”
Adopting the hobby during his first year in the USHL might have been a stroke of luck. The first season with the Storm, to put it lightly, was rough for Lavigne. He underperformed, splitting time with Jacob Johansson. Posting a subpar .895 save-percentage through 27 games, he was shadowed by Johansson’s .910 through 42 games.
“Fishing kinda filled that void,” Lavigne said, “and gave me an opportunity to be outside and enjoy the weather and the scenery and all that stuff and still keep me occupied without worrying about falling and breaking my arm or leg.”
If fishing was needed during a mentally-taxing first season, it was needed even more through his second season in the league, when he went to the Waterloo Black Hawks. Faced with tighter competition after being cut from Tri-City — this time seeing a four-man rotation at the position — Lavigne was given less time in the net, and subsequently, the team saw less from him. Posting an .866 save-percentage through 16 games, Lavigne’s performance proved uninspiring, especially with his competition, including the current Mike Richter Award winner and Notre Dame goalie, Cale Morris, who posted a .937 through 28 games.
“When I was in the USHL, I got cut from Tri-City and then Waterloo, which was a big low in my career and probably the lowest I’ve ever been,” Lavigne said. “And then going into Bloomington (Thunder), I had a great goalie coach that I got to work with there who really kinda turned my game around and helped me realize the mental aspect of things.”
If you didn’t know what type of goalie Lavigne was, he was always on the athletic side of the puck. His struggles were all mental.
“I would collapse on myself and get frustrated with myself,” Lavigne said. “And so (the Bloomington Thunder goalie coach) helped me work through that, and that was a big turning point, but that was a year-and-a-half long span of working with him and working through that stuff — that was big for me.”
After the first month, where he sat behind Logan Halladay, Lavigne dedicated his time to developing. No games, just practice. It gave him time to fully accept that the starting job wasn’t just going to fall to him, that he had to work hard against the competition out there to win it. It wasn’t unlike what he saw with Michigan last year, sharing time with Jack LaFontaine.
Even after he got his starts, he saw his time split in rotations. But that prepared him.
“Then finally got my starts, we rotated for almost a full year, we rotated,” Lavigne said. “That kinda really just set me up for the competition that’s ahead and going in — coming in here, freshman year, there was four of us. I was competing with not only just one other goalie, now I was competing with three others. Then last year, Jack LaFontaine and I were competing neck-and-neck for the first half of the season. This year, it’s (Strauss Mann) and (Jack Leavy) again.”
Through every start, Lavigne gained pieces of him that would define how he played. Defining moments of his career taught him lessons as a player bit by bit, allowing him to be the undisputed starter and late-season star the Wolverines needed last season.
“Even just my first game at Yost, playing and winning, just knowing that right away that I could compete at this level was something that definitely gave me the confidence through the last two years and moving forward,” Lavigne said. “Those are probably the biggest things, and like I said, it’s little things along the way. Going to the Frozen Four is a big turning point. It shows not only me, but the whole team, what we can do.”
And it was by getting faster, better and more consistent that Lavigne found himself winning the starting job at Michigan.
As a freshman, he averaged a serviceable .912 save percentage, with a 6-6-1 split through 13 games. It was as a sophomore, however, that he proved himself worthy of the starting job.
After a weak stretch in the first half of the year, where neither him or former Michigan goaltender Jack LaFontaine could separate one another, Lavigne was given the starting job after LaFontaine let six goals in against Bowling Green on Jan. 1st. And when given the opportunity this time around, he ran away with it.
On Feb. 2, Lavigne held his own against a ranked Wisconsin team, allowing only three goals on 40 shots. His goaltending made all the difference in a one-goal win, ending 4-3 in favor of Michigan.
Against Penn State, Minnesota and Notre Dame, Lavigne averaged a .947 save percentage during the crucial stretch.
Lavigne had finally established himself. He might have been a mystery before, but he’s made sure everyone knows just who is behind the mask.