Published May 14, 2021
Talk to members of the Class of 2021 at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and they could provide you with a multitude of extracurricular activities that have added to their medical school experience.
The experiences of Bradley J. Hawayek, MD, are particularly unique. For three seasons, he was the emergency backup goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres.
“It started my first year of medical school,” says Hawayek, a Western New York native from East Aurora. “I did it my first, second and third years of medical school.”
The opportunity presented itself out of the blue. While walking out of the gross anatomy lab as a first-year student, he received a cell phone call from a Sabres’ official asking if he was interested in the job.
“Obviously, it was pretty tough to pass that up,” says Hawayek, who played four years of college hockey at SUNY Geneseo, one of the top Division III programs in the country.
Due to COVID-19, the NHL expanded its rosters this season and mandated that a team must have three goaltenders available for each game. Before that, teams typically only dressed two goaltenders for a game. If both were injured, the emergency backup goalie — who was employed by the home team but could play for either the host or visiting team — would be thrust into action.
It’s rare that an emergency backup goalie has to play, but it famously happened in February 2020 when Dave Ayres, 42, a kidney transplant recipient and former junior hockey goalie, was forced into action when both of the Carolina Hurricanes’ goalies were injured in a game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
Playing against his hometown team — and the team that employed him as a Zamboni driver — he made eight saves in a little over a period of action in a 6-3 Carolina win. He became the first emergency goalie in NHL history to be credited with a win, which became a national and international story.
“You just never know. It’s always in the back of your head that if something like that happens, I’d have to play,” Hawayek says. “There were a few games where a goalie went down and luckily was able to get up and stay in the game. My heart definitely was pumping a little more in those scenarios.”
Hawayek would get two tickets to every Sabres’ home game at KeyBank Center. Usually, that meant watching the game from the stands with a friend, just like any regular fan.
“If a goalie was injured and had to leave the game, I would have had to grab my gear and get dressed. If the team’s other goalie was hurt, I would be ready and there wouldn’t be a delay in the game,” Hawayek says. In the unlikely event he had to play in an actual game, he would have signed a one-day pro contract.
Hawayek has had a love of hockey as far back as he can remember.
“I was in a learn-to-skate program at age 3 or 4. It’s been my passion my entire life,” says Hawayek, who started playing goalie at age 8.
He and his siblings have spent a good deal of their lives at ice rinks.
His sister, Kaitlin, is an internationally-known ice dancer. She and her skating partner, Jean-Luc Baker, captured a gold medal at the 2014 World Junior Championships, won the Four Continents championship as well as the NHK Trophy in 2018, and are three-time bronze medalists at the U.S. Nationals.
His younger brother, Nathan, played hockey through high school and is a student at Penn State University.
After several years of youth hockey, Hawayek played at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, N.Y., graduating in 2012.
After high school, he spent a year playing for the Belle Tire Hockey Club, a Tier I elite league squad in Detroit, competing against teams from around the country.
From there, it was on to SUNY Geneseo, where he earned his bachelor of science degree in biology in 2017. While at Geneseo, he began contemplating medical school.
“I came into medical school thinking about a primary care sports medicine career,” says Hawayek, a 2021 inductee into UB’s chapter of the national honor medical society Alpha Omega Alpha. “I had personal experience with it from injuries playing hockey.”
He had shadowed as an undergraduate and enjoyed it. Upon entering the Jacobs School, he was encouraged to shadow in orthopaedics.
“As soon as I started shadowing, I knew that was 100 percent what I wanted to do. Orthopaedics ties in much of what I like about primary care sports medicine, but it also has the operating room aspect to it,” says Hawayek, who matched to the orthopaedic residency program at UB. “I really love that setting and working with my hands every day.”
“Something else I love about orthopaedics is that you have this immediate tangible effect on the quality of life of the patients you treat. They are very thankful, and it’s amazing to see what a positive effect you can have on their life right away,” he adds.
He knows the possibilities are varied in his chosen field.
“With orthopaedics, all the subspecialties are so diverse. You can do sports medicine, but you can also do trauma,” Hawayek says. “Patients come to you with really acute injuries and you get to help them. The various subspecialties that orthopaedics has to offer and the diversity of the patient population you get to help is something that definitely drew me to it.”
“Regardless of which subspecialty I go into, I definitely want to stay in a setting where I’m able to work with residents. Staying in academics is something that’s really important to me,” he adds.
Hawayek knows he picked the right specialty, the right medical school, and the right city.
“It’s been awesome. I was extremely excited to be able to come back for medical school in Buffalo. Buffalo has changed a lot from even when I was in high school. It’s great to see the renaissance the city is going through,” Hawayek says. “It’s also nice to be able to start giving back and serving the patient population where I grew up and in a place that’s really close to my heart. I don’t think if I had the option to go back and do it again, that I’d choose any differently.”