Ann Arbor — Zach Hyman has gone from role player to Hobey Baker candidate during his senior year at Michigan.
Hyman and the Wolverines (15-7, 7-1) will put their seven-game winning streak on the line Friday night against top rival Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena. The Wolverines sit atop the Big Ten standings with a five-point lead over second-place Penn State, eight points ahead of the third-place Spartans (9-11-2, 3-3-2-0).
Hyman leads the Wolverines in goals (16) and points (35) and is fourth nationally in scoring, just two points behind Union senior Daniel Ciampini, who owns the top spot in goals (20) and points (37).
Sure, Hyman wants what Ciampini has from last season, a national championship ring, but he also wants a Big Ten title.
So, how has Hyman gone from a player who had just 13 goals and 35 points in 115 games over his prior three seasons, to an elite-level performer?
"The only thing I said going into this season is that Zach Hyman will have his best season this year, this is his time," Michigan coach Red Berenson said of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound forward. "He took a big step last year and was one of our top players at the end of the season. He's been on a mission this year. I didn't know he'd be this good. He's a Hobey Baker candidate now, absolutely.
"It's been a process in his development physically, mentally. He's always been a hard worker and now he's very confident. He's not a big, big guy, but he's a strong kid and he plays strong and he has that confidence around the net now. He's scores from everywhere."
Hyman has nine goals and 17 points during the winning streak, starting the streak with winning goals in each of the Great Lakes Invitational games, including one in the 2-1 title game win over MSU. He has six goals and 11 points the last four games, when the Wolverines have outscored their opponents by a 30-15 margin.
Michigan leads the nation in scoring (4.36). The Wolverines have capitalized on 15 of 35 power-play opportunities during the last 10 games.
The Wolverines showed they could battle back from large deficits to win, coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the opener at Wisconsin Friday to defeat the Badgers, 7-4, then earning a 6-0 win the following night to complete the sweep.
Hyman had a wraparound goal when the Wolverines scored three goals during a two-minute stretch midway through the third period Friday to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 cushion.
"That was a huge goal by Hyman," Berenson of Hyman's tying goal.
Hyman said he feels confident when he takes the ice, something that hasn't always been the case in past years.
"Confidence is a big thing, and I think my skating's improved where I've gotten a lot faster, gotten a lot stronger, just being physical and being hard to knock off the puck," said Hyman, a fifth-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. "The strength off the wall and being able to protect the puck away from the defender and buying myself a little bit more time to make a play, I think that's huge, giving yourself an extra second makes a big difference, and being able to protect the puck and maneuver myself around defenders is huge."
Hyman is on a line centered by freshman phenom Dylan Larkin (nine goals, 29 points), the Red Wings' first-round draft pick, and 6-foot, 200-pound junior Justin Selman. Selman has five goals and nine points in the last five games, including a hat trick Friday. He had five goals in his previous 55 games prior to his current run.
"It's been fun to play with them," Hyman said. "Selman's on the left side and he's physical, strong and hard to play against. He always gets in the dirty areas and he likes to go in front of the net and gets tough goals, that's how he got his hat trick the other night.
"Dylan has so much skill, you can just tell when he has the puck, he has so much poise and patience with the puck and he has great vision where he can find guys where other guys wouldn't be able to. He's not just a skilled guy, he goes to the dirty areas and gets the puck out. He's been consistent."
Hyman says the Wolverines are primed to contend for the Big Ten championship and make a long run in the NCAA Tournament after missing the Big Dance the last two years.
"Going to Michigan you always want to be a contender and with the guys the coaches bring in you feel like every year you have the potential to not only be in the tournament, but to win the national tournament and to be Big Ten champions," Hyman said. "You really feel that coming in you have the chance to win something and all the work we do in the offseason, all the hard work we put in the season prepares us to succeed."
Hyman enjoys playing in the series with MSU. One of his highlights has been winning the GLI.
"We wanted that matchup. ... Michigan-Michigan State," Hyman said. "It's not much better than that at Joe Louis, such a big rivalry and playing at Joe Louis, which has so much history with the Red Wings. It's a classic hockey rink that everybody knows about and so it was a really amazing experience. Now, to do it again, to play there against Michigan State, we're all excited for it because it's going to be a lot of fun and we'll get a lot of fans, too."
The Big Ten tournament will also be held at JLA March 19-21.