Zach Hyman was going to Princeton. He was excited by the potential to meld his academic and athletics careers into one. But sitting in his grandparents living room April 26, his future and the Michigan hockey team's fortunes changed in an instant ...
The 6-0, 195-pound center from Toronto had made up his mind long ago that he would benefit from the tutelage of Tigers' coach Guy Gadowsky but when Gadowsky accepted the head-coaching position at Penn State, Hyman, stunned at first, decided he would take a second look at the college program that best fit his ambitions.
"I was watching Game 7 of the Buffalo and Philadelphia series when there was breaking news during intermission about Penn State and at first I was shocked," Hyman recalled. "About an hour later Coach Gadowsky called me up and explained the situation and he was very supportive of whatever decision I wanted to make.
"I was pretty emotional for a few days and didn't want to make any rash decisions. I talked it over with my family and we thought the best option was to explore other opportunities.
"The academic side was still very important to me so I visited the Boston schools - Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern - and then I visited Maine and Michigan, and I had interest from North Dakota, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth."
As the Maize and Blue were announcing their five-member 2011 recruiting class Tuesday, Hyman was in Ann Arbor, touring campus and Yost Ice Arena, while meeting head coach Red Berenson. He didn't need much time to mull over his decision, committing to the Wolverines.
"Everything from the hockey to the campus to the academics is set up for each individual to develop and succeed," Hyman said. "There is so much history at Michigan, the coaching staff, the arena; my younger brother went there for a game last year and said they have the best and loudest fans he's ever seen.
"There wasn't one thing I didn't love about it and it will be a great honor to play for Coach Berenson. He's a legend."
Assistant coach Billy Powers had told TheWolverine.com just recently that Michigan wasn't done recruiting for the 2011 class - the Maize and Blue's needs were too great - but he expected to land a role player, not a superstar.
"You're not going to get a real high-impact kid but you can get a contributor," Powers said. "We're not looking for a stud because a stud isn't out there. We're looking for a good fit."
But a stud was out there suddenly and Michigan needed him badly to anchor a recruiting class filled with good skaters - and the nation's No. 1 goalie prospect (John Gibson) - but no true dynamic forward. Hyman is that athlete that can play on the first line (or at least has that type of ability), could score 20 goals as a rookie and could be a multi-year all-conference performer, and possibly an All-American.
This past season, he recorded 102 points on 42 goals and 60 assists for the Hamilton Red Wings of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and in three seasons and 141 games with the Red Wings, had 90 markers and 124 helpers. On May 6, he was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League 2011 Player of the Year - the highest individual honor that can be bestowed upon a Junior-A player.
Hyman is the third Wolverine to garner such acclaim, joining Jeff Tambellini (2002) and Mike Comrie (1998), who would both contribute significantly as freshmen and would enjoy productive careers in Ann Arbor.
"There's no question there will be an adjustment period but knowing Zach, his work ethic and his desire, he'll prosper," Hamilton coach Scott Elliott said. "If he asked for my advice, that's what I would tell him, 'That you're playing at a higher level now and just like you have in the past when you had to raise your game, that's what you have to do now.' And I know he'll respond to that challenge because he just works so hard.
"Zach has all the skill, but he's not a flashy, finesse player. He plays with such tremendous tenacity on the ice, he outworks everyone and he never seems to get worn down.
"For example, during our playoff run last year, we played a Toronto team, that's where Zach's from, and they pounded him every chance they could, to the point that they were cheap shots but Zach just kept on trucking, fighting through the body every time to put himself in a position to help his team offensively and defensively.
"He never once retaliated and he had a pretty good series and got the last laugh, but that's the kind of kid he is. He knew if he fought back it could hurt the team and he's entirely focused on the team's goals."
Hyman considers himself a solid all-around player. He kills penalties and has become a capable defensive forward, but his biggest contribution next season will be offensively. The Wolverines need their freshmen to produce with the departure of five senior forwards and Hyman possesses the greatest potential to do so.
"I want to be an impact player for Coach Berenson and Michigan," he said. "I don't want to be a guy that slips into the background and only helps out here and there a little bit. I want them to count on me for offense and for defense too. I feel like I can score big goals in big games."
And Hyman intends to do so for all four years. A letter of intent is set to arrive at his house today or tomorrow and he will fill out the paperwork, sign it and return it to the Michigan coaching staff with the promise of a long career in Ann Arbor.
"I want to stay for four years, get my degree, graduate and make Coach Berenson proud," Hyman said.
The Florida Panthers' 2010 fifth-round selection, Hyman will have company at Michigan soon too; he revealed that his younger brother Spencer, a 6-0, 210-pound defenseman with the Red Wings, also committed to the Maize and Blue and will join the program in 2012 or 2013.
"Spencer came to us as a forward but I thought he'd be a better defenseman and he's prospered because, like Zach, he knows how to work and what to work on," Elliott said. "He's on the ice every day with skating coaches, 365 days a year, and he never falters. You never hear a peep out of him that he's working too hard because he understands the sacrifice you make to be the best player you can be."
In 2010-11, Spencer had four goals and 16 assists in 49 games for Hamilton.
"We played on the same team the last two years and we've always talked about wanting to play together in college too," said Hyman, the eldest of five brothers.
While Spencer's contribution is still a ways off, his brother could be the difference this year between a first-place finish in the CCHA and second or third place. Landing him this late in the game was a coup for the Wolverines, one that will benefit both parties in 2011-12 and beyond.
"They're both being rewarded," Elliott said. "He's going to one of the top schools in the country and Michigan is getting the best player in the CJHL."