Even if he doesn’t get a chance to see them play live RDC Kings hockey head coach Trevor Keeper keeps a list of central Albertans in junior hockey and will inquire about them in their 20-year-old season.
Such was the case with Sylvan Lake native Hayden Clayton, who finished his junior career with the Flin Flon Bombers.
“I didn’t get a chance to see him play because he was at Whitecourt and Flin Flon, but I always have a list of central Alberta kids and when I contacted Flin Flon head coach about the Haygarth twins (Chase and Easton) I asked about Hayden,” explained Keeper.
“I knew he had a big body (six-foot-four, 210-pounds) and had a pro shot and a quick release.”
What Keeper wanted to know was about his skating.
“At the college level you need to be able to skate and I was told for a big man he skates well and has a good skill set.”
As a result, Keeper texted Hayden and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Trevor got hold of me about a month ago and got the ball rolling,” explained Clayton. “He talked about the program and a week later invited me to tour the rink and the facilities. I’ve seen it before but not up close and that sold me right there.”
Also being close to home helped as well.
“I was interested in Red Deer because they have a great program, the program in school I wanted and it’s close to home.
“It’ll be nice for my parents to see me more often. When I was in Whitecourt they got up a couple of times, but it’s a long drive.”
Hayden will take the two-year criminal justice program and stretch it over three years.
“After that I’m not sure but I do want to do something in law enforcement.”
Hayden got interested in hockey at an early age, picking up a stick when he was four.
“That was my sport, what I wanted to do,” said the 20-year-old, who turns 21 March 15.
He started playing competitive hockey in Sylvan Lake before joining the Red Deer Minor Hockey Association in second-year bantam. He played with the bantam Rebels Black, the U16 AAA Northstar Chiefs and a year with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs U18AAA squad under Doug Quinn.
“Doug was a great coach and helped me a lot,” said Clayton, who played three-plus seasons with the Whitecourt Wolverines in the AJHL before moving to Flin Flon at the trade deadline in the 2019-20 season. He played 19 games with the Bombers.
He also played eight games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL — four each in the 17-18 and 18-19 seasons.
He played two games this season with the Bombers before the season shut down.
“It’s been a really tough year,” he said. “It’s hardest on the 20-year-old guys who are looking for a scholarship. I was fortunate but a lot of guys are still looking and without playing it’s tough.”
Hayden has set his goal at the start of the season to play college hockey.
“That was my goal, but I wasn’t sure where and now that I can keep it going I’m super happy it’s at Red Deer.”
Hayden will give the Kings size on the wing. He normally plays the right side, but can play the left.
“I try to use my body to my advantage,” he said. “I feel I have offensive attributes and use my body to get in the right spot.”
The fact the Haygarth twins are coming to RDC makes it even better.
“We played together in Whitecourt and became friends,” he said. “They were traded to Flin Flon between seasons last year then when I went we were fortunate to be reunited. Now we’re keeping it going.”
Keeper liked what he saw from the twins, who are from Lloydminster.
“Usually with twins there’s always something that tells them apart,” he said. “But they both are the same size (five-foot-11, 180-pounds) with the same skill sets. The difference is one (Chase) is left handed and the other (Easton) is right.”
They also have offensive skills as Chase had 12 goals and 42 assists last season and Easton 19 goals and 34 helpers. Both played 56 games with Chase finishing with 83 penalty minutes and Easton with 125.
“Everything I hear is that they’re intense, competitive players who are hard to play against. We’ll lose a couple of guys like that this year so fit in nicely. I hear they were fan favourites in Flin Flon, which is a bit of old school hockey, so that says something about the way they play.”
Keeper added four forwards, three defencemen and a goalie this season to go with the six recruits from last season.
“We have a lot of turnover, but quality players,” he said. “Because of COVID a lot of players are not looking at going to the States and were looking to commit earlier than normal, so that benefited us. We’re done recruiting unless a couple guys (Jacob Wozney and Riley Smith) don’t get into the middle school education program. If they don’t come back we’ll have a couple spots open up front, but I do have three or four guys who we’ve been in contact with.”
Two of the more impressive recruits are on defence in Ty Ettinger of Ardrossan and Konrad Belcourt of Sherwood Park. Ettinger played 95 games in the WHL before finishing his junior career with Sherwood Park and Belcourt played 87 WHL games with Kelowna and Prince Albert before finishing with Fort McMurray.
Now the key is to get back on the ice full time.
“We’ve had a league meeting and while things may be delayed a bit next season we’re hoping that by the end of October everyone is vaccinated and we’re ready to go,” said Keeper.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org