UPDATE: Hyman scored his first-ever goal in the NHL last night during the Leafs’ 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Want to see what happiness looks like? Try Zach Hyman after his first NHL goal. pic.twitter.com/4o3wmKGsz2
— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) March 8, 2016
Zach Hyman recalls the phone conversation as if it happened just a week ago – which of course, it did. It was on a Sunday afternoon when he received the call telling him to come to the Air Canada Centre the next morning for a pre-game skate.
That’s a skate with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it should be noted, not with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, with whom he’d been playing all season.
“It was a really cool phone call,” Hyman recounted. “It’s something you’ve been dreaming about your whole life.”
Like countless other Canadian kids, Hyman grew up playing hockey and dreaming of playing in the NHL. Of course, only a very small number ever get to live the dream, so Hyman and the three other Marlies call-ups were joining some very select company, indeed.
“I felt more excited than nervous,” he said of the actual game-day.
He and his Marlies buddies, including centre William Nylander, were called upon to take the opening faceoff against the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Filppula line, backed up by defenceman Victor Hedman.
Welcome to the NHL, kid.
“It felt good,” Hyman said of playing on the opening and not having to wait to be called upon on the bench.
Up in the stands, besides the diehard fans of Leafs Nation, were the charter members of the Hyman fan club. His parents, brothers and other family members were present, as were plenty of friends.
With the first two tickets provided by the Leafs, he set up his girlfriend, whom he met while attending the Anne and Max Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, and her mother. Another pair of tickets went to one of his former teachers at TanebaumCHAT, Jory Vernon, who’s a vice-principal at the school now.
“When I was in high school, I made a promise to my American history teacher at the time [Vernon], that at my first game in the ACC, he’d be there,” Hyman recounted.
When Hyman signed a pro contract with the Leafs last summer, Vernon reminded him of his high school promise.
With the Leafs out of the playoffs and the team embracing a youth movement, there’s a good chance Hyman and the other young guns will get a good long look for the rest of the season.
He’s performed pretty well in his first few games. The stat line from the Tampa Bay game reads zero goals and assists, even on the plus/minus scale, two shots on goal, one hit and 15:58 in ice time –pretty respectable numbers for a rookie, let alone someone playing their first game in the NHL. Games two through four were pretty similar, with Hyman earning about 15 minutes of ice time a night and being defensively responsible – even on the plus/minus scale.
Hockey Night in Canada made special mention of his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, rather than simply dumping it in.
So far, the transition from the AHL to the NHL has been “awesome,” Hyman said. “It’s fast” but he believes the speed suits his game. His line mate with the Leafs is Nylander, no slouch in the speed and skill department, and last year with the University of Michigan Wolverines, one of his line mates was Dylan Larkin, a speedster who isn’t doing too badly with the Detroit Red Wings.
Although his NHL adventure is only a few games old, Hyman has been feeling more comfortable all the time. “I’ve giving 100 per cent every time I’m on the ice,” he said.
Maple Leafs’ no-nonsense coach Mike Babcock has noticed. Following the Lightning game, Babcock said, “Hyman is a relentless worker who can still make plays.”
After a road game in Washington, he said, “I thought Hyman and [Nikita Soshnikov] were real good.”
And following last weekend’s game at home versus the Senators, he said, “I thought Hyman, Soshnikov and Nylander were all real good for us.”
Hyman has been real good at hockey ever since he was a boy. At an early age, he developed the mindset that would allow him to continue to take the steps from one level to another, and set for himself “goals within goals.”
As a youngster, he wanted to be the best player in AAA hockey. Later he aimed to play NCAA college hockey. Once at Michigan, it was becoming an All-American, something he attained in his last year, when he was also in the running for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award, scoring 54 points in 37 games as a senior.
Hyman continues to set goals for himself – the ultimate one is to win the Stanley Cup.
In the meantime, there are those goals within goals to attain, at the heart of which is “to try to be the best that I can be.”