Ryan Hartman acquired his drive and grit honestly.
The Plymouth Whalers centre's game has been distinguished by a certain flinty Chicago toughness — or compete level, in hockeyspeak — throughout his two seasons with the U.S. national team development program and his first month in the Ontario Hockey League. Asking him about his family sheds some light on how he came by it. In 2010, shortly after Hartman,moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., so he could play with the NTDP, his mother Kim Hartman (who had moved with him) underwent surgery for breast cancer. Seeing a parent overcome that helped Ryan Hartman mature quickly.
"She had a friend down in Tampa Bay who got diagnosed with it and she said, 'you might not feel anything, but go get it checked out,' " says Hartman, a native of West Dundee, Illinois. "She went and sure enough... they caught it early which was lucky on our part. She had full surgeries. She's been doing really well. She recovered faster than anything. She was out of the hospital about five days before you're supposed to. She's a tough lady. She doesn't like to sit in the hospital — she wants to get out, get active. After a few months she was back running, doing her routine jogs, just maybe not as far as before.
"That was definitely not good news but life will throw a lot of adversity at you," Hartman adds. "You just got to get over it and a big part of growing up is overcoming stuff like that. She managed to and I learned a lot from her. It was definitely a lot better that she had made the move up here [to Ann Arbor] when that happened. If she had been back in Chicago, I wouldn't have been able to see her every day throughout her recovery."
Hartman, who turned 18 on Sept. 20, helped Team USA win the world under-18 championship last fall. He had intended to play collegiately for the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, but with another year of high school ahead, opted to join the Whalers. He has eight points (3G-5A) in 10 games as the Whalers' No. 2 centre behind Anaheim Ducks first-rounder Rickard Rakell. (Last Friday in Kingston, he had a Gordie Howe hat trick with a short-handed goal.) That's a promising start for someone who has played wing throughout his formative years.
"It's actually ahead of the curve and what's unique about it is he's moving to a position he hasn't played very much, which is centre," says Whalers coach-GM Mike Vellucci, who was short-staffed in the middle after 19-year-old Colorado Avalanche second-rounder Mitchell Heard made the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters. "We don't have a lot of centres on our team and he's done really well. He's played a lot of minutes, all specialty teams, even strength and 4-on-4. He's getting as much ice time as anyone of my team."
"His compete level game-in, game-out is something I'm really impressed with," Vellucci adds. "He doesn't take a game or a shift off. Something that's just showing now more and more is his goal scoring, his playmaking. He's been snakebitten, but as of late, he's getting more opportunities and he's putting them in. I think he was concentrating more on his D zone because centre is new to him but once he gets used to it, he'll start putting up more points."
Hartman's versatility should put him in the mix for the U.S. national junior team come December. He was ranked as a B skater in NHL Central Scouting's preseason rankings.
"I'm not ranked top 10 but that's definitely my goal," he says. "The lower I'm ranked, the more I have to prove. Nothing's given, just get out there and show people where I belong."
1. You are unique in that you're a power-forward type while being listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Whom in the NHL do you watch closely because he is the type of player you'll need to be to reach that level?
"I like to look at David Backes [of the St. Louis Blues]. He's a captain. He's a leader. He might be a few inches taller than me. I'm not too worried about height. I don't have a guy under 6-foot on my dad's side. My uncle is 6-5, another uncle is 6-6, my dad is 6-2. My dad didn't grow until college — late bloomers in our family."
2. Aside from the speed, what is the main difference in the style of play between the U.S. under-18 team's mostly USHL-based schedule and the OHL?
"It's more physical, too. You're going to make a big hit and sometimes there's consequences for it, a guy will step up for a teammate that you might not have saw in the USHL. Other than that, it's puck movement. Guys really know how to move the puck. They do a lot better job of that, I think."
3. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"U18 gold medal at the world championship last year with the U.S. program. Twenty-two guys who really lived together for two years. All that work paid off. We ended up having to play Canada back-to-back in the last game in the round-robin and again in the semi after getting a bye. The semifinal game was a 2-1 game right down to the wire. It was really fast-paced, no friends throughout the teams. I made some enemies that day too playing against some OHL guys, it was kind of like a transition to the OHL."
4. There's no quality a player your age should neglect, but what side of yourself do you really want to develop this season?
"Maybe leadership. I played with same age group for the last two years. Now I'm playing with [Whalers first-round pick] Zach Bratina, he's a '96. Just trying to take those guys and help with their adjustment to the league, just take them under their wing. Zach's a really good player, really good for his age. You just have to be a leader, get those guys going."
5. As a Chicago Cubs fan, is it tough being in the Detroit area when the Tigers are in the World Series and the Cubbies haven't made it since 1945?
"Once the Cubs were out of it, I was definitely cheering for the White Sox [the Tigers' division rival]. You always got to cheer for your hometown, even though I don't like the White Sox as much. It's not easy to see to all the Detroit fans bragging about the Tigers lately.
"All I know is the Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions on Monday night. I was pretty proud of that."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet .