BOSTON -- When the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League helped out with a reading program in a number of local schools last season, the experience was a little different for one of the players than the rest.
Forward Zach Hyman wasn't reading just any books to the kids. He was reading his books.
The kids were tasked with doing projects on one of 8-10 books chosen for the curriculum, which was sponsored by the Marlies along with Scotiabank and First Book Canada; the winning class got to go to a Marlies game. One of the options was "The Bambino and Me." Another was "Hockey Hero."
Each was written by Hyman.
Becoming an author wasn't exactly what Hyman had planned to do with his life. His goal was to become an NHL player, a dream he reached with his debut on Feb. 29; that it was with the Toronto Maple Leafs was doubly special for a kid who grew up in Toronto. That was what he would have said, had he been asked, about his aspirations back in elementary school or middle school or high school. Hockey was always his first love.
But somewhere along the way Hyman found a parallel path, one that might last beyond the 24-year-old's playing days.
"I didn't really expect much from writing," Hyman said Saturday. "I wasn't trying to go out there and be an author. But it's a big passion of mine and I just really, really enjoyed it, so once everything came together it was a no-brainer for me that I wanted to keep pursuing writing."
It started when Hyman was in seventh grade, when he wrote the story that would become the basis for "Hockey Hero" for a short-story competition. He won. His father helped him explore the idea of self-publishing the book, which he eventually did. Inquiries led the pair to freelance book editor Janice Weaver, who often works on children's books.
They began working together on "The Bambino and Me" when Hyman was in high school. The book is built, in parts, around real-life quotes from Babe Ruth.
"What I really liked about that project, the thing that kind of struck me about it first, was that Zach had used so many of Babe Ruth's own words to tell the story," Weaver said. "I thought it was a really nice way of bringing the factual elements into a fictional story and giving you a good flavor for what that larger-than-life person was like. I thought it was clever and I thought it showed a maturity in his writing that you don't expect to see in a story written by a high school kid."
The collaboration with Weaver eventually led Hyman to work with Penguin Random House with "The Bambino and Me" and, eventually, the revamped "Hockey Hero" being published under the Tundra Books imprint.
That's not all.
His third book, "The Magician's Secret," is in its final stages, with just the art to be completed; Hyman expects it to be published in the beginning of 2017. It's expected to be followed by a fourth book with a basketball focus. "The Magician's Secret" is his first book without a sports theme.
The books are written in the many off-hours of a hockey player's life, at home and in the summers, when a break from training gives Hyman the time and ability to sit with the words.
Then he gets to share them.
"It's fun to write for kids because I remember when I was a kid and I always used to love reading children's books and looking at the pictures and being all excited. It's a lot of fun when you read the books to kids and see their faces light up," Hyman said, his own face aglow.
"That's definitely a big reason why I write children's books. It's fun for me too."
It's clear that Hyman's other career impacts his writing, his sense of hard work and goals and dreams. He has been through it. He has seen how that translates into real life, into finding himself in exactly the place he always hoped he would, playing for his hometown hockey team, serving as a role model to the kids he entertains, whether on the ice or in his books.
"One of the things I really love about the books is they have a sort of old school message to them," Weaver said. "A simple kind of nostalgic, in some cases, message to them. And a lot of the messages of the books are about dreaming big, following your dreams, working hard to achieve your dreams.
"I think that's very much reflective of the way -- from what I know of Zach -- of how he lives his own life and how he conducts himself in terms of his athletic career, so I think there's a real dovetailing there between the way he lives his life and what he believes on a daily basis and tries to put into action, and the messages that he's trying to convey through his books."
It means something to him. It's something that's real to him.
As Hyman's career has taken off on the ice -- he has four goals and five assists in 27 games for the Maple Leafs -- he continues to learn the lessons that likely one day will be encapsulated in future books, future labors of love.
"It's just a big passion of mine and I'm fortunate to be working with awesome people who help me out along the way," Hyman said. "Just focusing on hockey and writing is something that I'll obviously continue to do.
"Writing is going to last longer than hockey. You can't play hockey forever, but [you] definitely can write forever. Just enjoying it; it's amazing. I get to live the life of a hockey player and also have writing. It's pretty special. I'm really lucky."