Next year, Random House will publish two children’s books by a new author. One, titled, “The Bambino and Me,” conjures 1920s New York and tells the story of a young Yankees fan named George, who especially admires Babe Ruth and carries his baseball card everywhere.
The other book, “Hockey Hero,” is about a shy hockey player who overcomes playing in his brother’s shadow and eventually makes it all the way to the National Hockey League.
“Hockey Hero” came out of an award-winning short story Zach Hyman wrote for an English class at his Jewish day school in Toronto. That wasn’t really so long ago for the 21-year-old Hyman, who not only has a deal with a leading publishing company, but also with the NHL. Hyman was picked in the 2010 entry draft by the Florida Panthers, which “owns” him as a potential NHL player.
“Writing is a hobby, not a job,” says Hyman, who is currently playing hockey at the University of Michigan. “I write because I enjoy writing. There will be another book, whether or not it gets published. I like to write feel-good stories about believing in yourself and never giving up.”
Since arriving late this summer in Ann Arbor for the start of his junior year, Hyman has been busy training for the start of the Wolverines’ 2013-2014 hockey season in early October (powerhouse Michigan was picked to finish third for the inaugural season of the Hockey Big 10 Conference).
Hyman’s focus is on doing well on the ice and in the classroom. By 2:15 p.m. every day, he’s at the rink suiting up for practice. “From 3:00 on, it’s basically all hockey,” he says. “I schedule everything around practice and games.” He manages to cram 14 hours per week of classes in to the morning hours and maintains a high grade point average as a history major.
With no guarantees of a pro offer from the Panthers, Hyman, a 6’1″ forward, attends their development camps in the summer and tries to perform the best he can on the ice while at university. “The Panthers own my rights until I leave school, so I need to really prove myself while I am here,” he explains. So far, he’s registered an impressive 18 points in his two years playing for Michigan.
Hyman is enjoying having his younger brother Spencer, 19, with him both on campus and at the rink this year. Spencer, a freshman, plays defense. In fact, there are a total of five Hyman brothers, ranging from 10 to 21 years of age, and they all play hockey.
Hyman, who also plays rugby and other sports, barely remembers a time before he was was on skates. Hockey is in his family’s blood, with his father Stuart and his three uncles having played in their youth. Stuart Hyman is known in Canada as a junior hockey impresario, and his sons have played on teams owned and operated by him, including the Hamilton Red Wings of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Before arriving at Michigan, Hyman was captain and lead scorer for the Red Wings, and was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League and Hockey Canada’s 2011 Player of the Year. (His 2010-2011 jersey hangs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.)
At one point, his father, a real estate developer, owned 90 competitive kids’ hockey teams, worth millions of dollars in total. Eyebrows were raised further when in 2010 he bought International Scouting Services, a company that scouts players and publishes NHL scouting reports.
“It’s a cradle-to-National-Hockey-League development strategy unheard of in the hockey world,” is how the Toronto Star characterized the questionable situation in a 2010 article.
The Hyman patriarch chalks his actions up to his passion for the sport. “Some people buy art and put it on the wall. I bought hockey clubs because it’s a passion,” he told the Star. “I’m different from anybody else because I’m a leader and I try to do what I think is right for hockey. Unfortunately, when you’re a leader you always have people who are jealous and envious of you.”
The son has nothing to say about his father’s high profile, other than that he has always been there for his sons over the years.
“It’s never been an obstacle,” he says of the elder Hyman’s reputation as a hockey dad extraordinaire. He adds that there is no real competition among the five brothers, and they are very supportive of one another.
For years Hyman had to put plans to visit Israel on ice because of his hockey commitments. March of the Living and Taglit-Birthright Israel trips always conflicted with major games and tournaments. But this past summer, it was actually hockey that finally brought the scholar-athlete to the Holy Land for the first time. Scoring a hat trick and two assists, he led Team Canada to a 7-1 gold medal victory against the United States in the open men’s ice hockey finals at the 19th Maccabiah Games. His brother Spencer also played for Team Canada.
For Hyman, his time in Israel served as a culmination to the Jewish day school education he refused to forgo despite the demands of high-level hockey. By the time he was drafter to the NHL, he was already a proud graduate of the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.
“For me and my family, a Jewish education is important,” Hyman shares. “I didn’t want to leave Jewish school. The people and the community at CHAT were really important to me. I had great teachers and my lifelong friends were there.”
“Speaking Hebrew is also important to me,” says Hyman. “I even continued studying Hebrew here at Michigan, finishing the highest level offered.” His Hebrew came in handy this past summer in Israel when Hyman stepped up as the unofficial interpreter between the bus driver and his coaches and teammates.
While hockey is a natural pursuit for members of his Jewish family, Hyman has not encountered many other Jewish players at his level. “There were about five Jewish guys in the [Ontario Junior Hockey] league who were Jewish, or who I think were Jewish,” he recalls. “But here at Michigan we have four Jewish players on the team, which is the most ever.”
With HYMAN printed in huge letters on the back of his hockey jersey, he wears his heritage proudly as he zips across the ice.