Hirsch leaves goal-scoring, attention-gathering to others

Junior Tyler Hirsch is tied for fourth in the nation with 14 assists in 13 games this year.

by Ben Goessling

Tyler Hirsch would rather you weren’t reading this.

The Minnesota men’s hockey junior forward would just as soon pass the attention that comes with his status as the Gophers’ newfound playmaker like one of the 14 pucks that have set up his teammates for goals this year.

Other players can score goals and talk to the media. Hirsch, on the other hand, would rather just keep doing what he’s been doing – making his teammates look good, while he slips away from the spotlight.

Some players don’t care about accolades; Hirsch, who is tied for fourth in the country in assists, is downright uncomfortable with them.

But when you have the ability to put a hockey puck through holes a mouse on the South Beach diet couldn’t fit in, well, the attention just seems to find you.

“I’d rather fly in under the radar. It’s just part of my personality,” Hirsch said. “I’m not too keen on having a feature story on me. There are other guys on the team that deserve attention more than me.”

And while he doesn’t place himself among the Gophers’ (10-3-0, 6-2-0 WCHA) cast of lightly regarded workhorses, Hirsch’s pass-first ways have been a major catalyst in the team’s run to the top of the national rankings.

“He’s got to spread his assists around,” said center Gino Guyer, who skated with Hirsch in the College Hockey Showcase last weekend and scored a goal off a Hirsch pass in Friday’s 5-0 win over Michigan. “It’s the coaches’ choice, but I think everybody wants a little piece of him.”

He recorded four helpers last weekend, including a pass from the left circle he sliced through the slot and past two Michigan State players to set up defenseman Chris Harrington’s one-timer in the first period Saturday.

He didn’t take a shot all weekend, but, in his current role, that’s pretty typical. Hirsch has just 21 shots all year – just more than a third of Ryan Potulny’s total and five fewer than Harrington’s.

The 5-foot-9-inch Hirsch is thoughtful and well-spoken but wears something between a smirk and a scowl on his face most of the time – perhaps a symptom of the “short man’s syndrome” he said he picked up from his father.

He’s used to skating with high-profile players. His linemates at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., were North Dakota standouts Zach Parise and Brady Murray. And before that, Hirsch grew up in the powerful Bloomington Jefferson High School system.

So, while there might be a part of Hirsch that wishes for the spotlight, he’s grown pretty comfortable away from it, too – so comfortable, in fact, the first thing coach Don Lucia said about Hirsch is that he wants him to shoot more.

Hirsch, who said coaches at every level of hockey have harped on him to take the puck to the net, has what Lucia calls the best hands on the team.

And the coach said he thinks Hirsch could score goals in bunches this season if he’d pull the trigger more.

“He’s got great vision, and he makes plays when the puck is on his stick,” Lucia said. “It’s part of his personality to pass first, but we’d like him to shoot.”

However, Guyer said Hirsch takes plenty of shots. It’s just that most of them seem to come at his teammates off the ice.

“Everyone thinks he’s a riot. He seems kind of (quiet), but he likes a prank,” Guyer said. “Just stuff he can get away with.”

For example, two years ago on April Fools’ Day, Hirsch told Guyer he would have to live in the laundry room of the house the two players were going to rent the next fall with Harrington and Andy Sertich.

But all joking aside, Guyer said Hirsch deserves more credit than he’s willing to give himself.

“I look at some of the shots he passes up and think to myself, ‘Why’d you do that?’ But he’s always looking to set someone up for a better play,” Guyer said. “He deserves what he’s getting. This year, he’s taken his game up to a new level, and it’s great to see him rewarded for that.”

Ironically, some of the fanfare might go away if Hirsch started scoring goals, but it’s safe to assume he’ll keep polishing his ever-improving niche.

Which means Hirsch is just going to have to deal with the attention.

“I probably could be a goal-scorer, but I can’t argue if the points are there,” Hirsch said. “The team’s better when I’m playing my best, not playing on the first line.”