CHAT grad drafted by Florida Panthers in fifth round

Over the phone, Zach Hyman sounds like any other Canadian teenage male. He loves hockey, he grew up admiring legendary Canadian hockey greats such as Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman, he likes to hang out with his friends and he lives at home with his parents.

Hamilton Red Wing’s Zach Hyman scored 35 goals last season. [Brendan Fifield photo]

However, as the Florida Panthers’ fifth-round draft pick in the recent NHL draft in Los Angeles, Hyman, 18, the oldest of five hockey-playing brothers, is far from average.

“I feel great. It’s just amazing,” Hyman gushed about being chosen by the Panthers.

“Zach’s dream has always been to play in the NHL,” said Zach’s father, Stuart, in a separate phone call later the same afternoon.

“He’s excited to be drafted by Florida. Dale Tallon, who just took over the Florida Panthers as general manager, has a long track record of finding the diamonds, the kids who have potential to make the NHL, so it’s a real honour.

“We [Stuart and Zach’s mom Vicky] are very proud of Zach and his accomplishments, and we support him in his future endeavours as he continues to build on his dream of making the NHL and playing for the Florida Panthers. And Zach’s a great role model for kids, in that he’s proof that if you work hard and believe in your dreams, anything can happen.”

Having put on his first pair of ice skates as a mere toddler, Hyman developed a passion for hockey at an early age. “I’ve been on the ice since I was four years old,” he said. “I grew up wanting to play hockey. I just love it. I grew up loving hockey and watching all the NHL games. I’ve always loved the game.”

Actually, recalled his father, Zach was on the ice even earlier than four years old.

“Zach’s too young to remember,” Stuart said, “but he learned to skate before he could walk. It hurt my back, but I took him to arenas and held him up on little skates and helped him to skate. He started playing hockey at four, but he had already started skating much earlier than that.”

After his early head start, Zach eventually played Triple A hockey for the Toronto Red Wings before moving, two years ago, to the Hamilton Red Wings where he is both forward and captain of the team. Currently in his last year with the Red Wings, he plans on taking next year off from school to train full time and “get bigger and stronger.” He expects to be at the Panthers’ main camp this fall.

Hyman, who stands 6-2 and weighs 200 pounds, is a tough competitor, having scored 35 goals and 40 assists for the Red Wings last season. In fact, competition and challenge are what Hyman loves most.

“Hockey is very competitive. I love scoring goals. And hockey’s a lot different from every other sport because you’re skating. Most other sports, you’re running and you’re not on skates.”

Hyman, who attended United Synagogue Day School and graduated with top marks from the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (TanenbaumCHAT), will join Princeton University’s hockey team in September 2011.

Despite the upcoming demanding and rigorous schedule of both attending a top university and playing on its hockey team, Hyman maintains a laid back disposition. “There’s always pressure, but I’m used to the pressure. I balance my schedule out well. It’s really not that bad. When I was at CHAT, I was on the ice almost every day after school. I had a really long day. I didn’t get home until 10 or 11 at night. I did a lot of my schoolwork in school when I had free time.”

Math, politics and sciences were his favourite subjects in high school, but he hasn’t decided what his major will be in university. He laughs and quickly says, “No” when asked if he has a back-up career plan in mind. He’s simply focused on hockey.

“It’s up to Zach,” says Stuart. “If he continues to work hard and continues to want it badly enough, he’ll have every opportunity to make the [Panthers] team. How much better could it be to attend one of the finest schools in the world and to be drafted into one of the greatest NHL organizations?”

And, as the past is more often than not a successful indicator of the future, Hyman, with his incredible discipline, should do just fine, keeping a committed and focused eye on the, er, goal.