Willingness to ‘run with opportunities’ leading Henry Hart to success

Taking shots at otherwise unfamiliar experiences has been a long-running motif in Henry Hart's life and career. (Photo credit: Jack Warhola)

For children growing up in a hockey family or an area where hockey is very popular, being on skates at a young age is quite common. Henry Hart had both of those factors working for him growing up the son of a former Dartmouth women’s hockey player in Stillwater, Minn.

However, his hockey career did not get off to the greatest start. Hart initially did not want to take that first step onto the ice, but relented thanks to some persistence from his mother.

“My mom always tells the story of when I was a little kid and I was at my first hockey game,” Hart told Pucks and Recreation. “I had done some skating lessons with my older sister, but my mom was obviously interested in hockey and having me play hockey.

“She signed me up for a hockey camp, and apparently I didn’t want to go out there. I was falling, crying and causing a pretty big scene. So my mom just picked me up, put me on the ice, and closed the door.

“She said she was watching me skating around the rink crying, but then by the end of it I didn’t want to get off the ice.”

That newfound desire led him to a roster spot at Yale, where he is now a junior, and the pattern of willingness to try new things has continued through his life.

As Hart has grown up, the theme of taking a leap of faith and trying out something new has been a constant. Both on and off the ice, he has been shaped by unique experiences that came as a result of not backing away from new opportunities.

‘He’s always taught me to give back…’

One of these instances was an opportunity to help out at a hockey camp with the Herb Brooks Foundation. Hart trains with Joe Dziedzic, a former Minnesota Gopher, Pittsburgh Penguin and Phoenix Coyote who has since taken to coaching and training.

“He always taught me to give back to the game,” Hart said. “He ran some practices for (the Herb Brooks Foundation) for children who hadn’t really played hockey before; some inner-city kids trying to get some experience in the game. He asked me if I would be willing to come out and volunteer with them and interact with the kids and show them what hockey is. That was a really good experience.

“These kids didn’t really have much, so it was nice to give them something and provide a spark for them to latch onto and hopefully run with it.”

This volunteer experience took place during the summer after his senior year of high school. Now in his junior year at Yale, he has been able to continue giving back to the community.

The Bulldogs as a team have recently decided to focus on being active members in the New Haven area. They have especially focused on helping children in need.

“Every year we’ve done a toy drive around Christmastime,” Hart explained. “We get assigned a kid for Christmas and go out and give them Christmas gifts. This year we also went to a New Haven Hospital and met with some sick kids around Christmastime.”

Hart credits Minnesota alumnus and former NHLer Joe Dziedzic for teaching him to “give back” to his sport. He has since expanded upon that principle in areas outside the rink. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

‘It was interesting to see all of the groundwork…’

Hart was also able to utilize a connection to intern for one of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate candidates, Mike McFadden, in the summer of 2014, prior to his freshman year at Yale.

McFadden was the father of a good friend of Hart’s from high school at St. Thomas Academy. He won the Republican primary, but fell short against Al Franken in the general election.

“It was a great experience,” Hart recalled. “You always hear about campaigns, but I’d never actually been a part of one. It was interesting to see all of the groundwork that went into a campaign. The phone calls, finance behind it and just the grassroots of it was very interesting.”

While he admittedly did not do much high-level work, Hart helped with a lot of logistics on the campaign. His duties included helping to sort and arrange checks and prepare presentation materials for McFadden’s trips around the state.

Hart does not see himself going into politics down the road, but saw the opportunity to be a part of this campaign as one he could not pass up.

“My mom and I wanted me to find something to do that summer other than hockey,” he said. “You train a couple hours a day, but you need something else to fill the rest of your time in the summer productively. My buddy reached out to me and asked me if I would be interested in helping out at all and I said, ‘Of course,’ and just kind of went from there.”

Offseason surgery kept Hart from obtaining an internship this past offseason, but he is actively pursuing opportunities for the coming summer. Obtaining experiences like these can only help improve his resume moving forward.

‘…you might as well do something you like’

Another important decision for Hart, one which many can relate to, was declaring his major. He recently settled on history, with a focus on European studies. This decision was strongly influenced by a particularly intriguing class.

“It was called Military History of the West Since 1500,” he explained. “It was taught by a pretty famous professor named Paul Kennedy, and I was pretty captivated by the class. It was one of my favorite classes that I’ve ever been to. I enjoyed doing the reading for it.

“I talked about it with my mom and she said, ‘If you’re going to spend so much time on your work, you might as well do something you like.'”

An enjoyable major is definitely important for an Ivy Leaguer dealing with the heavy workload combined with the rigors of being a Division I athlete. For a freshman, it is a particularly lofty learning process. But everyone, Hart included, eventually finds a system that works best.

Time management practices become essential, as well as establishing a strong work ethic. Hart was able to look up to his older sister as a valuable resource for adjusting to life as a student-athlete. Annie Hart was a five-time All-American as a member of the Dartmouth ski team.

“My older sister was a very successful collegiate athlete,” he said. “She was a pretty good student as well. She gave me a lot of advice whenever I had any questions. I always talked to her about how she did certain things. She was definitely a big help.”

Hart has benefitted from bountiful expert advice on student-athlete life from his family. His mother and sister were both athletes at Dartmouth, his father at Colgate. (Photo credit: Jack Warhola)

‘…connections are a big part of the world’

From obtaining internships and volunteer experiences to receiving advice, Hart has been able to utilize connections to help him reach where he is today. Dziedzic got him involved with the Herb Brooks Foundation. A high school friend got him involved on the political campaign. His family has been influential on his hockey and college journeys.

As he advances in life, he will look to use his time as a Division I hockey player and student at Yale as leverage.

“I think connections are a big part of the world,” he expressed. “It’s so competitive out there. A lot of people from hundreds of schools are all applying for the same opportunities. So having your connections is a big part of life in general.

“I hope to be able to make use of my time at Yale, especially on the hockey team. I hope to make the most of it because it’s a rare opportunity to be a part of, so hopefully I can use it to my advantage.”

‘…you have to run with opportunities you are given.’

In order to move closer toward making the most of his time at Yale, Hart took another leap of faith early on this season. He did not play too often during his first two seasons (just 22 games), but this year was presented with an opportunity to earn some more ice time.

Between a slew of players lost to graduation, including All-American Rob O’Gara, and some unfortunate injuries, the Bulldogs found themselves shorthanded on defense this season. Hart, a natural forward, was able to help fill the need.

“They approached me as a guy that they thought could do well back there (on defense),” he recounted. “They asked me if I would be willing to do this for the team and give it a shot.

“I of course said ‘Yeah,’ and kind of just ran with it and got a lot of help from the other defensemen who are currently on the roster. It’s been pretty successful so far.”

So far in his first year as a defenseman, he has eight points in 14 games played. During his first two years, he had three in 22 games played as a forward.

Hart has shown a willingness to “just run with” opportunities he’s been presented with to this point in his life. Whether they are on or off the ice, Hart has focused on giving new things a try. This has certainly paid off in his hockey career, and bodes well for his future.

“In life in general you never really know what’s going to happen,” he reflected. “It’s important to be flexible and willing to try whatever…You have got to really run with opportunities you are given.”