Zach Hyman has always been a pretty good hockey player. Back in Grade 9, playing for the CHAT Tigers, he was elevated to the senior team, skating alongside kids in Grade 12.
Around the same time, maybe even earlier, he was developing a different talent: he wrote a children’s story that won first place in a short story contest and that drew lots of encouragement from his teacher.
He’s been pretty busy ever since. He pursued his hockey career as a forward with the Hamilton Red Wings of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL), and last summer he was taken in the fifth round of the NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers. More recently, the talented 18-year-old saw his first book published, Hockey Hero, based on that middle school story.
One online review called it a “touching tale of a grandfather’s and grandson’s love for each other and hockey [that] is bound to melt the hearts of all ages. This is a classic tale that earns its place on any families book shelf, coffee table or night stand.”
Not bad for a kid barely out of high school. It appears that when Hyman does something, he does it at the highest level.
Last week he was back at his old haunts for a book reading. With his Panthers jersey in tow and Billy Idol bleached blonde hair – a playoff ritual the Red Wings employed this season – he read from his book to excited youngsters at Robbins Hebrew Academy’s Beth Tzedec campus during the school’s annual book fair. “It’s really important for me to help out in the community,” Hyman explained.
Aside from the absurdly blonde hair – the guys were too young to grow respectable playoff beards – it appears Hyman’s got his head screwed on straight.
An honours student, next season he’ll be attending Princeton University, where he’ll play for the Tigers in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), a division of the NCAA.
He took the current school year off – at least as far as academics is concerned – and spent a lot of time on the ice and the gym. In his third year with the Red Wings, a team owned by his father, he was named to the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s (OJHL) North-West Conference First All-Star Team. The honour came after he finished second in OJHL scoring with 102 points in 43 games. Hyman, the team captain, had 42 goals and 60 assists and only 24 minutes in penalties.
Last November, he was a member of the silver medal winning Team Canada East at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Penticton. He scored two goals and three assists in five tournament games.
Those are pretty heady highlights in so young a career – almost as impressive as his Grade 9 MVP performance that led the CHAT Tigers to the TDCAA finals that year.
Hyman believes he’s a much better player than the one selected by Florida in the draft last summer, let alone the one who played for CHAT a few years ago.
“I improved my skating, I’m a lot faster,” he said. “I got a lot stronger. This last year I was in the gym a lot.”
Robert Turnbull, head coach, general manager and president of the Red Wings, said Hyman “is an all-round player. He was sought out by several teams in the ‘O’ [Ontario Hockey League] and the U.S. Hockey League. I’d say no less than five teams in our league wanted us to trade him to them.”
What makes Hyman such a valuable commodity is his broad assortment of skills. “He’s a good playmaker and shooter, he’s strong on the puck and a good skater. He sees the ice incredibly well and has a good deal of tenacity,” Turnbull said.
The season started early for the 6-1, 195-pound forward. Hyman attended the Panthers’ rookie camp last summer in Coral Springs, the team’s training facility. He felt good about his performance and “management said I did really well. They were happy with the way I did, and they expect me to keep developing as well at Princeton. When I’m ready, they’ll take me in.”
He’s in regular e-mail contact with Brian Skrudland, the ex-Panther who’s now the team’s director of player development, who provides him with tips on improving his game.
Turnbull believes that while Hyman has been a good player for a long time, moving him from wing to centre at the beginning of the season “freed him up. It allowed him to become a better playmaker.”
He also got Hyman to change skates from a stiffer boot to a more flexible one. That along with Hyman’s dedication – “he worked every day on his skating” – made a big difference.
“His skating skills improved 100 per cent,” Turnbull said. “His balance, his leverage. You can’t knock him off the puck.”
As a result, he excelled. “He had more points per game than anybody in the league.” Had he not played for Team Canada East and missed games because of the High Holidays, he probably would have won the league scoring title, Turnbull said.
If Hyman’s able to make the move to the NHL, he won’t be the only Princeton Tiger to do so. Three other Tigers have made the jump, including Jeff Halpern, class of ’99, who now skates for the Montreal Canadiens.
Hyman is committed to a four-year stint playing for Princeton, where he’s confident he’ll continue to develop as a player.
“Education is always important,” he said, “but I really think I have a chance at making the NHL.”
And what will he study while he’s at Princeton? “I don’t know,” he replied, “maybe something to do with writing.”