Q&A: Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman on confidence, hazing and esports

Zach Hyman discusses his first suspension, and going through that process for the first time, says he plays hard and that won't change just because of this result.

It takes a lot of confidence to be the ‘other guy’ on a line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander on an original six team with Stanley Cup aspirations.

You also have to be pretty comfortable in your own skin to say you’re not going to change your style of play when given your first suspension by the NHL league office.

But Zach Hyman has never felt pressure to do or say what was expected of him as a hockey player. His unabashed interests in everything from children’s literature to esports shows the self-assured diversity of his perspective.

While talking about his confident nature as part of the Head and Shoulders ‘Headstrong’ campaign, I spoke with Hyman about how self-confidence impacts everything from how you dress as an NHL player to how you deal with hazing and how it has fueled his off-ice endeavors.

SN: Who has the best flow on your team? Is there a guy on the team that takes longer than everyone else — the bus is waiting for him because they got to get that look right?

Hyman: William Nylander for sure. He always likes to make sure his hair looks top shape. So excited to see him again and see him doing his thing.

SN: I understand there’s a funny story about your first road trip in the league as a rookie and how you kind of had a little wardrobe malfunction that maybe took away a little confidence.

Hyman: Oh, yeah. One-game road trips are kind of boring. You’re in the city and flying out of it. So, you don’t pack much. So, I figured I’d just roll with the one suit and that was a bad decision. I pulled into the airport and we park our car and step out, you walk on the plane for the first time, all excited to go on my first trip on the private plane.

Stepped out of the car and my pants ripped right up the seam and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do? I don’t have any backup stuff.’ So, I had to just kind of rock the look and go on the plane and of course I got some chirps, the guys were on me for sure, but it was definitely a memorable experience.

SN: Speaking of confidence, there is a heightened awareness around mental health with athletes. Is that an open dialogue that you guys can have?

Hyman: Yeah, it is. Over time it’s a lot more prominent. Now people are more willing to talk about their feelings and then you talk about things when things aren’t going well for them. Being able to talk to your teammates about that can also help you find your confidence. Everybody goes through times where they’re not feeling good about themselves or they’re doubting themselves, and the ability to find that confidence through past achievements or encouragement from your teammates is something that I think is important not just for athletes, for anybody.

SN: What did you make of the conversation that has been started with Dan Carcillo and other former players talking about hazing in the sport and incidents they had when they were coming up as youth players?

Hyman: That was part of the culture and there isn’t really as much of that anymore. I think that it’s really geared towards guys who are much more supportive of each other and I think that helps finding confidence and whatnot. Whereas before maybe the hazing you would suffer would take away from young guys’ confidence. I think now especially with our team, we all came up as young guys together. We had a really young team the past three years and the older guys really help the younger guys find the confidence and really just encouraged us to go out there and do your thing.

And I think that’s why we’ve been successful and now that we’re a little bit older, we can kind of help the younger guys find their confidence and that’s why, you know, more and more in the NHL you see younger players starting to take over and starting to find success at a younger age than ever before. I remember in college, there’s several times you go out of your way to go and protect the freshman and the younger players, but not so much anymore.

SN: You should be confident with your writing because you’re an award-nominated author. When did you start to take it seriously?

Hyman: It’s definitely something I really enjoy, where it became more than just homework — it became a passion. I’m the oldest of five boys and storytelling and creative writing and things like that were always something that I really loved. So being an older brother, I kind of just fell into storytelling and writing as an extension of that and I never really saw it as a chore.

I really just enjoyed writing and progressing as a writer. I think that having confidence in your writing ability is something that’s really important as well because often times, you know from personal experience, the first story that you write is never the last story and you got to be able to stick with it and find what works.

SN: Do your teammates show any interest in what you’ve written?

Hyman: Yeah, they love it. I always go out of my way to make sure they get a copy and they love it. They like to give them to their kids or as Christmas gifts and it’s great.

SN: The other thing I should congratulate you on is your involvement in esports. Why is that something you wanted to partner in?

Hyman: It’s one of my passions. So just like hockey and writing, something that I love to do. It’s just about enabling young people to pursue their dreams and pursue their passions. Working with young players and helping them achieve their dreams is just something that I wanted to be a part of because I love the space and it’s pretty cool because seeing these tournaments, these guys are going through the same kind of stresses and tribulations that I go through.

So, I’m able to talk to them about things and confidence is definitely one of those things. It’s cool to be on the management side of things because I understand the player perspective.

SN: Fortnite has been banned by some NHL teams. Was there ever a discussion amongst you guys that gaming was too negative at some point?

Hyman: No, I think we’re all adults. Everything is good in moderation. I think that, you know, if you’re going out there and playing 12 hours a day and you’re trying to be a professional hockey player, that’s probably not the best look. But if you manage your time and video games is an outlet for you to express yourself in a different way, then good for you.

Sportsnet.ca: Tell me a bit about the campaign with Head and Shoulders and why you wanted to be a part of it?

Zach Hyman: Head and Shoulders is a brand that I’ve used for forever, an iconic brand. Having the ability to associate with them is pretty special for me. The campaign that they’re running right now is called the Headstrong campaign and it directly relates to what I believe in and that’s portray confidence. As a hockey player, we always go through adversity and everybody kind of goes through times where you kind of doubt yourself and the ability to find your confidence and push through.

SN: How much of that confidence comes from coming to the arena looking good? How much of your look impacts how confident you play?

Hyman: I’ll tell you a funny story. Actually, we got the haircut done for the Head and Shoulders shoot. I came to the rink and all the guys were commenting on my hair and I played pretty well since. So, it definitely carries over but that’s pretty funny now getting that haircut done, I’m pretty cool to the guys on the team.

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