THE WELCOME BACK KID
In the thick of one of the best debut seasons the NHL has ever seen, Providence Falconers rookie and former hockey child prodigy Jack Zimmermann is proving that second chances make all the difference.
We talked to the Falconers’ number one to find out what makes a successful comeback.
Jack Zimmermann is a man of discipline. Setting up a time to speak with him takes more time than perhaps it should, Zimmermann begging off appointments a few times in a row.
When we’re at the point of starting to think that the stories of him being flaky and inconsistent on the ice also correspond to his real life, we receive a phonecall - from Zimmermann himself.
He is profusely apologetic, hesitant in a way that would suggest nervousness if it weren’t coming from a man who has been navigating his public image since he was in diapers. Zimmermann explains that there have been scheduling conflicts - he shoulders the blame, citing his awkward schedule and unclear instructions. He invites us to breakfast after his regular morning run.
It’s hard to stay mad at a voice like that.
The café Zimmermann directs us to is small and intimate, the kind of place with exposed lightbulbs and copper accents; not the sort of breakfast nook expected of a born-and-raised athlete in a sport as notoriously hypermasculine as hockey. Zimmermann arrives slightly sweaty and puffed, tugging earbuds from his ears. The smile he gives is, in a word, dazzling. He settles at our small table with a large mug of black coffee, order of protein scramble with smashed avocado on the way.
“They do good eggs here. It’s good to fuel up after a run.”
And what does an NHL star listen to while he’s casually dashing out eight miles before breakfast?
Zimmermann laughs. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Beyoncé lately. I don’t know if it’s helping my game, but it’s probably doing something for my dance moves. She’s got a good beat for cardio.”
When Zimmermann’s food comes, he seems put out by the fact we’re not eating. He speaks highly of the café’s English muffins: “I have it on good authority that they’re baked in house, and made with a good recipe.”
The muffins are delicious. Zimmermann’s many sides are almost making it hard to bring up hockey - we’d quite like to talk to him about his unexpected music choices and excellent breakfast recommendations all day. As it is, though, congratulations are in order: Zimmermann has recently been named as one of the Providence Falconers’ three alternate captains. Impressive though this achievement is, it’s rendered even more incredible by the fact that Zimmermann has only played twenty-two games with the team. In fact, he’s only played twenty-two games in the NHL, which has already been enough to position him as the Falconers’ starring scorer and within the top five players in the running for this years’ Art Ross trophy for highest scorer in the league.
Zimmermann’s NHL debut comes off the back of four successful years in the NCAA with Samwell University, three of which were as captain. In his senior year, he led his team to the Frozen Four; the furthest the Samwell Men’s team has reached in ten years. Leadership, then, seems to come naturally to him.
A response to this comment isn’t forthcoming; employing the same intensity with which he seems to do everything, Zimmermann takes a large mouthful of his coffee and savours it before swallowing.
“My captaincy at Samwell was voted by my teammates. I’m always grateful for the faith they put in to me, and my junior and senior years were without a doubt some of the most humbling and developmental experiences I’ve had on the ice. Knowing the guys I had out there with me, knowing they all had my back just like I had theirs, that was what pushed us so far in the end. That first year though, I’m pretty much certain they were just voting for what they thought was inevitable.”
He is referring, of course, to the hockey legacy begun by his father, ‘Bad’ Bob Zimmermann: three-time Stanley Cup winner, recipient of nearly every hockey award known to man, scorer of 794 career goals. One might forgive Jack Zimmermann for being resentful of his father’s successes – after choosing to follow ‘Bad’ Bob’s career path, comparisons fairly write themselves. However, it is raising the subject of his father that clears Zimmermann’s expression.
“I can’t pretend like so much of what I’ve managed to do isn’t due to my dad. I’m the first person to stand up now and admit that, yeah, I was resentful of him and always being compared to him. But lately, these months since graduating especially, I can’t really overstate how much everything he’s done means to me. The Stanleys, sure, and all the other achievements he made during his career. I’m going to get chirped to hell for this when you publish, but I’m so much more grateful for the fact he’s a good dad.”
This begs the question of who would have the guts to poke fun at a guy who is arguably going to be the most intimidating in the room at any given point. Something about the combination of vibrant success, sickening good looks, and a frankly ridiculously perfect body. Commenting on this raises a chuckle around a forkful of eggs. At least table manners still appear to be an area for improvement.
“Growing up, this always seemed like such a huge deal to me. My dad looks the way he looks – I’m under no illusions, and neither is he, we all know he’s a good-looking guy, he’ll be the first to tell you so – and my mom’s a model. I was actually a bit of an awkward kid, insecure. I haven’t really spoken about this publicly before, but yeah, being scrutinised for something that superficial at a young age, it was awful. As an adult, I can comfortably say that some of the stuff that was said to me as a kid, about my appearance and my weight, was actually damaging. Those kinds of things do make an impact. For me it was always this thing about being better, but honestly that’s not something that’s measurable or even that you should be trying to be better at, really. I’m not going to pretend it’s not affirming to hear someone say, ‘hey, you look good.’ But I’m trying to focus more on what my body can do than what it looks like.”
How, then, does Jack Zimmermann measure his success?
“I try not to count the goals, but I can’t help but tally the wins. I spent so long heaving the achievements of my teams on my own shoulders, trying to be a one-man-wonder, and that’s a hard habit to shake. These days, it’s more about ‘have I let the team down’ than ‘have I let myself down.’ You want to feel like you’ve done right by your boys, like you’ve pulled your own out there. Part of being a captain is being able to sit down afterwards and ask, ‘okay, did I do everything I needed to to support the guys?’ It’s about not letting that reflection turn into a pity party. That’s the hard part.”
At this point in the conversation, Zimmermann has finished his eggs. He makes a point of thanking the waitress who comes to collect his empty plate, and asks her about the pastries in the display cabinet. He’s endlessly courteous in asking if we would like to try a maple pecan Danish. He says “pecan” with a long “a” – pe-cahn – and in the way he recommends it honestly sounds like some sort of pastry expert. It’s a hard proposal to resist. He asks for one Danish for the three of us to split, and one in a bag, “for a friend.”
“You’re doing me a favour in sharing this. I’m trying to cut back on sugar, but the pastries are always pretty good here.” Is that on order of his team nutritionist? “No, ah, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I’m able to offset it in other ways. The baked stuff, it’s good for carbo-loading, but it’s high-GI so the energy in the sugar releases too fast. Not super useful for pre-game or a workout. I can’t really talk myself into believing it has proper nutritional value, but it tastes good. Today, I know I’ve just done a run, and I’ve got a gym session and a skate later on. I’m not going to crash over a third of a Danish.”
When the pastry does arrive, Zimmermann takes his phone from his pocket. He grimaces in a self-effacing way, and apologises jokingly. “This is rude, I know, but do you mind?” Even in taking a café snap, Zimmermann is meticulous. He positions the plate in good lighting and is clearly trying to capture a pleasing angle. Who would’ve known that Zimmermann was an Instagram addict?
“No, I’m just sending this to a friend. Gloating a bit.” He shows us the photo before he sends it: it really is very good. If that’s what he can achieve with an iPhone camera, maybe we should be offering him a position in our photography department.
“It’s more of a hobby. I took a photography class in college, final semester. People kept saying it was just a senior slacker, but I actually do like it. It’s having something there that I’m not accountable for, that I can work on and improve for my own enjoyment. But I mean, I did get an A in the class.” Zimmermann’s sense of humour is wry, and becoming more obvious the longer we spend with him. Popular opinion is that he actually doesn’t have one – we’re now convinced that people just don’t get that he’s joking. What else does a hockey pro do for enjoyment?
“Balance is the most important thing. I’m lucky in that my job is something that I love to do. A lot of my downtime is spent connected to hockey anyway: hanging out with my teammates, and my college friends all play or have something to do with the team. I’m starting to own that hockey robot label people have been throwing around for years. I should get a t-shirt or something. But yeah, balance. I’m trying to diversify. Photography’s one thing, but I’ve been learning to cook too. Reading. Checking out the city. Hanging out in cafés.”
It honestly does feel like we’ve just been hanging out, and not only because of the lack of official representative from the Falconers – something nearly unheard of for a player of Zimmermann’s calibre. It’s almost unsettling to feel like nothing is being hidden.
“If it helps, I assure you that I’ve still got some secrets. Being as private as I have been for so long, it’s a hard thing to break out of. Being a more open person, though, a more honest person, it’s something I’m really trying for. I’ve even been known to display emotions.” Like we said, his humour is wry.
It’s at this moment that Zimmermann’s phone buzzes. He is, once again, apologetic, and checks it quickly. Whatever the message is makes him laugh.
“The photo was a win. My friend’s jealous.”
After an hour in Zimmermann’s company, we don’t blame his friend. It seems that his triumphs on the ice are the least of what people should be admiring Jack Zimmermann for. Consider us inspired – and more than ready to see what comes next.