It wasn’t with his teammates – as they had hoped and worked for – but Dan Hayfield travelled to the recent U Sports men’s soccer championship tournament.
On his flight back to the East Coast, the third-year midfielder from Exeter, England, needed more room in his suitcase.
At the annual All-Canadian gala, Hayfield not only garnered first-team recognition, but also the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy, which goes to the Canadian university men’s player of the year.
“It certainly left me a bit speechless. It is certainly something that I never really hoped for,” Hayfield, who also earned the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) most valuable player award, said.
Noting the cross-country trip was a long one, Hayfield said, it was “100 per cent worth it.”
“It was a bit surreal and I was nervous, as well,” he said.
Hayfield finished fourth in U Sports, with 13 goals, which established a single-season X-Men record. Six of those were game-winners, which led the conference.
“Dan had a tremendous season for us, in large part because of his outstanding off-season work, where he trained and played in the Premier Development League with Calgary Foothills,” X-Men head coach Graham Kennedy said in an email interview.
“Dan is one of the cleanest strikers of the ball I have coached – his technique is near perfect and he’s gotten very good at adjusting his body to the ball, rather than adjusting the ball to suit his body shape and position and, consequently, he’s getting more shots.”
Kennedy added Hayfield’s release has “gotten quicker.”
“He’s running at defenders and taking people on. His confidence is high and I believe he’s not done yet – I think he’s got another gear, which is exciting for X-Men soccer,” he said.
Hayfield helped lead his team to a 9-1-2 regular season record and a bye to the semifinals in the conference playoffs, where the X-Men dropped a heart-breaking 1-0 decision to the UNB Varsity Reds.
“Based on our performance, it is not the result that we deserved. It is the best match, I think, that we played all season,” he said.
In that one, the Blue and White carried much of the play, while holding a 15 to four shots-on-goal advantage.
“By far, the best group I have ever been involved with, at a team level. It really shows in the way that we play,” Hayfield said of this season’s X-Men, noting their togetherness – on and off the field.
With several seniors leaving the X-Men, he noted, it will be a “really important” off-season for him and his returning teammates, especially the third and fourth-year players, in terms of taking on leadership roles.
“We want to continue the legacy that they have established,” Hayfield added of his departing X-Men teammates.
Noting recruits were visiting over the weekend, he said, it is also important to welcome them to the X-Men culture.
“Dan still has two years to go with us and, if he stays on this trajectory, he’s one of three or four players we have who can turn professional with the new Canadian professional league that begins in 2019,” Kennedy said.
“Our program is in a good place right now, even though we lose a lot of players to graduation this spring.
“Our young players can play – they’re talented. As a matter of fact, they’re chomping at the bit to see our seniors depart, so they can take over. I am excited for them,” he added.
Hayfield thanked his teammates and coaches, along with family and friends, for their support and part in him winning the national honour.
“I could not have done it without them,” he said.
Hayfield is the first X-Men to win the Joe Johnson Memorial Trophy.