By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 25, 2012
Somehow, Zach managed to get words out.
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“It was shock,” Zach’s mom Vicky recalled. “Zach was one of the first ones he called.”
Zach and Gadowsky were close. Vicky said his decision to originally commit to Princeton “came down to Guy.”
There was a comfort level between the two of them that would make many coaches envious. It takes a special kind of relationship to get a kid to commit at only 15, as Zach did.
“He told me the news and he felt really bad because of the situation I was in and the relationship we had,” Zach said. “It was four years in the making that I was going to go play for him and that school.”
Following Gadowsky to Penn State wasn’t ever a serious option. The Nittany Lions would still be a club-level team for another season, and Zach didn’t want to take another year off, like he did in 2010-11 to play in Hamilton.
When he committed to Princeton at 15, he started a trend of early hockey commitments by doing so. But Zach’s recruitment was suddenly wide open, just four months before he had planned on arriving at Princeton.
“As soon as he decommitted, it was overwhelming,” Vicky said. “You got a taste of what movie stars go through. They were fighting for him.”
It’s 10 hours from the Hyman’s Forest Hill neighborhood in the heart of Toronto to Boston. Stu’s phone rang for nearly half the drive as he drove his two oldest sons to Boston College and Boston University.
Zach had a decision to make, and everyone wanted to see him before he made it.
“Every 10 minutes, the phone rang,” Spencer said. “Norm Bazin (head coach at UMass-Lowell) was like, ‘Stop by on your way.’ UMass called. Maine, we went to. North Dakota, Minnesota — they all wanted us to come.”
Some of the schools never stood a chance. The family narrowed the decision down to the Boston and Michigan areas, largely because of the great academic reputations for the Ivy League-caliber student.
On the way back from Boston, with Boston University the clear leader in the clubhouse, the Hymans detoured to Ann Arbor for a stop.
It would be their last.
Zach and Spencer sat across from Red Berenson in the coach’s office, while Berenson laid out why they should be Wolverines. It didn’t take long.
“Ten minutes into Michigan, we had completely forgotten about every other school,” Spencer said. “It was over. Zach and I were sitting in the (Ross Academic Center) and we looked at each other and it was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to Michigan.’ ”
When Zach arrived in Ann Arbor in fall 2011, his suitors were still pleading. The OHL executives kept calling.
“In Michigan, right at the beginning of the year, we were getting offers for him to go,” Stu recalled. “Guys were saying ‘Red’s not playing him properly,’ and ‘He’s a goal scorer but he’s playing defensive forward’ and ‘I can take Zach to the NHL.’
“We just said ‘Thanks a lot.’ ”
At the start of last season, though, the puck just wasn’t going in for Zach. He heard metal after seemingly every shot — frustrating after scoring basically at will the season before.
Berenson has been coach of the year in the NHL before. He knows the type of forward that today’s game demands. If you’re going to be a part of his program, you’re going to play sound two-way hockey.
Berenson met with Zach and told him he wanted to see more of a two-way game out of him. Don’t worry about the points, Berenson told the natural goal-scorer.
Zach’s not the first to have that conversation with Berenson. He certainly won’t be the last. But he has bought into the system as well as anyone in program history.
His dad compares him to Luke Glendening — last season’s captain and the type of team-first leader that every locker room needs but not every one can have. Zach scored only nine points last year compared to 102 the year before in Hamilton. He played only two more games in Hamilton than at Michigan.
“I would’ve liked to have had more of an offensive impact,” Zach said. “But in the NHL, if you can’t play defense, you can’t play. You need to be a two-way player in the NHL nowadays.”
Fred Bandel, the amateur scout for the Florida Panthers responsible for Michigan, hadn’t seen Zach before the draft. So his description of Zach as a player reflects only on his development as a Wolverine. And you can’t tell from his input that Zach wasn’t always the sound two-way player he’s become and that Berenson adores.
“He’s a strong two-way player,” Bandel said.