Spotlight on J.T. Wyman
By Greg Fennell
There are any number of words in the English language that will suffice: serendipity, chance, providence, luck, karma, kismet.
Any will work well here, because of these questions: Shouldn’t the winner of something called the Dartmouth Award, given to the most valuable hockey player at Minnesota’s Blake School, be destined to attend Dartmouth College in the first place? What force would make that possible?
Senior forward J.T. Wyman considered the notion and smiled. “I know that there’s a few players who have been through Blake and have also gone to Dartmouth,”
Wyman offered. “I know Rod Anderson played here, Chuck Ritchie, a few guys who have a little history and have been to both schools. They were outstanding players as well. That could be kind of the lineage behind the award.”
So you never bothered to ask? Another grin. “I just took it and ran, y’know?”
The same could be said of Wyman’s hockey opportunity at Dartmouth.
There are as many dreams of hockey futures as there are lakes in Minnesota, and it’s the rare young boy who doesn’t envision himself someday in Golden Gopher maroon and gold. Wyman a native of the Minneapolis suburb of Edina was no different, but the thought of a well-rounded education as well as Division I hockey eventually led Wyman to haul his Dartmouth Award to Dartmouth instead.
His collegiate days dwindling, Wyman has enjoyed a career that started at third- or fourth-line forward as a rookie, became fill-in defenseman as a junior to leading scorer in his final season. His 14 goals are a career best, better than double any of his teammates.
As fate another apt word would have it, Wyman has returned to the role he held at Blake during his high school years: go-to guy. The senior assistant captain has filled a vital need for scoring on a young Dartmouth team that has struggled with consistency this winter.
“It’s been way too fast; you never think four years can go by so fast,” Wyman said after a recent Big Green practice at Thompson Arena. “Everyone warns you about it, but you never realize it until you go through it yourself.”
In addition to the Blake MVP award, Wyman came to Hanover bearing a different sort of imprimatur: draft status. The summer before his freshman Dartmouth season, he was chosen in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft by the Montreal Canadiens, the 100th overall pick, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound right wing with a knack for finding the back of the net (31-2354 in 24 games as a Blake senior).
Clearly, the pros saw something in Wyman. So did his future college coaches.
“(Fellow assistant coach Brendan Whittet) did the evaluating on J.T., but the biggest things were his size, skill, speed,” assistant coach Dave Peters said. “Being a young player, he had a lot of potential.”
As freshmen in college who are accustomed to success in high school often find out, the step up usually means a step down in attention and importance, if not expectation.
“Coming to Division I hockey, you get a lot of guys who were much more the go-to guys on other teams: the scorers, the big-time players,” Wyman said. “Coming in my freshman year, it was a little difficult, a little change of roles. Going to third or fourth line, where you go out for however many shifts you get a game and kind of give it everything you’ve got, but you’re not really expected to pop in the game-winner.
“I think I’ve developed a little more of that (go-to) role back since I’ve been here. I think I can say that I’ve been looked to as more of a scorer, because that’s something I’ve aspired to be, especially at this level.”
Wyman filled a role as a freshman, playing every game and producing the occasional point. A promising sophomore campaign 20 points in 28 games was cut short by injury just before the start of a run to the ECAC semifinals.
Although a wing by trade, Wyman showed his versatility early last year when injuries left the Big Green shy of healthy blueliners. He returned to the forward lines by the new year, posting career-best numbers (13-1124) that helped backstop the 13-3-1 run through January and February that resulted in another trip to Albany.
“He’s done a great job for us,” Peters said. “He played defense for us last year, using his size and speed, hockey sense and his toughness. He had a great attitude about it, very selfless, and really helped our team in a time of need. He didn’t worry about his points, and then really exploded the second half of the season.
“It just seemed like every game we needed a big goal, he’d drive the puck wide and score a big goal for us. This year, he’s picked up right where he left off.”
Wyman began his senior campaign with a two-goal, one-assist debut in a 4-2 win at Vermont in late October. Wyman had already deposited six goals and 12 points in his scoring account by the time Thanksgiving arrived. An eight-points-in-four-games burst followed last month.
It’s no coincidence that in each of the Big Green’s wins over Hockey East opposition this season (Vermont, Boston University, New Hampshire), Wyman has scored at least once.
“David Jones was a great skater for a big man, but he’s different that David,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, comparing Wyman to Jones, who left school last spring to join the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. “David would just as soon run you over as he was to go around you. J.T. has just great speed, so if he gets wide on you, he’s really tough to take off the puck. He doesn’t have to run people over as much; he just blows by people. His first two or three steps are so quick and so explosive.
“He also combines that with a really good shot. He can one-time the puck. He can shoot a wrist shot. That combination of size, speed and quick release is pretty good for the next level.”
Wyman need only look to the progress of two former teammates, Jones and Tanner Glass, to gauge his chances once his professional career starts. A late-round draft pick back in 2003, Glass has carved a spot for himself with the NHL’s Florida Panthers this winter as a no-nonsense grinder less than a season after captaining the Big Green. Another late choice in that same draft class, Jones has made a pair of appearances with the Avs this year while also being one of the top power-play marksmen in the AHL.
“(The NHL is) a competitive league, but you’ve got to have high goals in order to get there,” Wyman said. “I’ve just got to work hard, stay focused and control what I can control and let the rest come.”
Wyman prepares for his imminent graduation recalling one of the reasons he chose Dartmouth in the first place: a desire for more than a hockey education. The realization comes through when he’s asked what the non-hockey highlight of his Dartmouth years will be.
“I actually just started, this term, Big Green Readers,” Wyman said of the Tuesday program that brings Dartmouth athletes to the Mount Lebanon School in West Lebanon to read with the elementary school’s students. “You go, sit in class for an hour with the kids, read stories. It’s been a great experience for me in terms of reminding me of the simpler things in life. ... It makes you enjoy those simple things a lot more.”
Such as growing up in Minnesota. “The Land of 10,000 Lakes, and also long winters, creates a lot of open ice time,” he said. “I remember growing up just hours and hours (of skating), even outside of scheduled team events. You’d go to the rink and play pickup hockey until you can’t feel your face anymore. It’s a culture, a tradition, a special thing to see and a special place to grow up.”
That James Thomas Wyman, Blake’s Dartmouth Award winner, landed at Dartmouth was serendipitous. That he developed into what he’d hoped was better than fate.
“I was just excited to go and play at the Division I level: nervous, excited, a lot of different feelings,” Wyman said, thinking back to the high school award that shared the name with his soon-to-be collegiate alma mater. “It was a good way to get the ball rolling, I guess.”
He just took it and ran, y’know?