Hyman Shines for Cup-Hungry Edmonton

Hyman Shines for Cup-Hungry Edmonton

Edmonton fought back from being down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals, led in part by Jewish winger Zach Hyman, but ultimately lost to the Florida Panthers in Game 7.

This spring, Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman cemented his legacy as one of the most accomplished Jewish hockey players of all time // Photo Credit: Edmonton Oilers social media
This spring, Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman cemented his legacy as one of the most accomplished Jewish hockey players of all time // Photo Credit: Edmonton Oilers social media

For one six-week stretch this spring, there was no more prolific goal scorer on the planet than Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman. During Edmonton’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the 32-year-old Toronto native, who grew up in a very observant Jewish household while attending both United Day School and later the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, was, as evidenced by his leading all playoff scorers with 14 goals heading into the Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers (who ironically drafted him way back in 2010), the most dynamic player in hockey – Jewish or otherwise.

Since he left his hometown Maple Leafs a few years back to join Edmonton, Hyman, who also moonlights as a children’s sports author and whose wife, Alannah, is expecting their third son this September, has been overshadowed by a pair of splashy teammates, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, both of whom are generational talents.

Not this year, though. Coming off a career regular season in which he potted 54 goals and tallied 77 points, Hyman exploded for 18 points in the first three rounds of the postseason to propel Edmonton to its first Stanley Cup Finals since 2006.

The production was so impressive that at one point in late April when Hyman was doing his thing against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, he caught the attention of Shaquille O’Neal, who while making a cameo on the “NHL on TNT” show, picked up the moniker, “Shaq Hyman.” A few weeks later, after Hyman and the Oilers had just finished off the Vancouver Canucks in Round 2, the NBA Hall of Famer/mega celebrity/ regular “NBA on TNT” analyst received (on-air) a nifty personalized gift: a signed Zach Hyman jersey sweater that read “To Shaq, Thanks for all the support!” along with a custom-made, seven-foot stick. Shaq, in turn, flashed the autographed keepsake for the world to see while expressing his fondness for Hyman (“Zach, I love you brother.”)

For Hyman, the public recognition by the basketball legend took on greater meaning as his grandfather was a diehard fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and lived in California when Shaq starred for the storied franchise.

“That was cool, obviously I never thought Shaquille O’Neal would have my jersey and know who I am even, so that was pretty cool,” Hyman said afterwards.

After his run this spring, millions of other sports fans now know who Hyman is. Hockey players who become household names tend to be elite goal scorers and until this season he was never a guy who lit up the scoresheet on a nightly basis (last year, when speaking to the Atlanta Jewish Times, former Edmonton coach, Jay Woodcroft, referred to Hyman as “a Swiss Army knife type of player who does work for other people”).

Celebrity matters aside, by early June as the Oilers faced a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 deficit in the Cup Finals — at the time, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch remarked that “hopefully Zach Hyman can write a storybook about this when it’s all said and done” — it became painfully apparent to the entire province of Alberta that if the Oilers were going to be the first Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup since Mathieu Schneider and the Montreal Canadiens did so in 1993, Hyman was going to need to deliver. Through the first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals — these were widely expected to come against Adam Fox and the New York Rangers before Florida pulled off the upset in the Eastern Conference Finals — he didn’t register a single point. No worries. In a win-to-stay-alive Game 4, the Oilers roared to a resounding 8-1 victory with Hyman pocketing a pair of assists; a couple nights later, Hyman picked up his first goal of the Cup Finals as the Oilers once again staved off elimination by dusting off the Panthers, 5-3, to send the series back to Edmonton for Game 6.

“I think hockey’s simple; you can go through systems, and you can go through structure, you can go through all the details but at the end of the day, it’s whoever wins the most battles,” said Hyman in the wake of Game 5. “That’s really it. Most nights, if you watch the game, it’s who’s winning the battles on the walls, who’s winning the net-front battles, in front of your net, in front of their net. That’s how goals are scored.”

Just as he doesn’t like to overcomplicate the game, Hyman has little interest in talking about his own on-ice performance.

“Every game there’s going to be somebody who steps up,” he added after Game 5 when asked to comment on his first Cup Finals goal. “I really think that if you go on a run and you win a Cup, you need different guys making plays on different nights. Of course, your best players have to be your best players, but you need everybody, so it doesn’t matter who’s scoring. It’s great to score a goal, but at the end of the day, it’s the team. Everybody is so invested in every goal that it doesn’t matter who’s scoring them. It may kick-start it, it may not. It doesn’t matter to me as long as we’re winning.”

Hyman and the Oilers continued winning – in historic fashion. In what would be the penultimate game of the series, Edmonton notched a breezy, 5-1, Game 6 win, fueled in part by Hyman cashing in on a breakaway opportunity for his 16th postseason goal (the most in nearly 30 years) to give Edmonton a 3-0 advantage before the second intermission.

“The belief in the room was ‘we can do this,’ we stayed steadfast, and the belief outside the room was, ‘these guys are done.’ And then you win a game and the belief outside the room grows and you win another game and it’s like, well, they can’t lose at home now (Game 6),” said Hyman, who’s been a very engaged member of Edmonton’s Jewish community — just as he was in Toronto. In December 2021, he joined Rabbi Ari Drelich of a local Chabad in lighting the first Chanukah candle at a public menorah lighting.

“I think the message has been, that it’s been hard all year. I think it’s almost fitting we were in that spot (down 0-3). We just felt that if there was ever a team that could crawl out of it, we believed it could be us, the way the season’s gone.”

The Oilers ultimately fell to the Panthers in Game 7 after a hard-fought series. Irrespective of the ending to Hyman’s storybook season, or how much longer he plays at an elite level — he’s been in the league for nearly a decade and there’s a lot of mileage on his skates – it was undeniable he emerged as a towering Jewish sports figure across all of North America this spring.

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