Attitude Equals Altitude For High-Flying Caps’ Defenseman

By: 
Jess Myers

On his way to work in the heart of Washington, D.C., Capitals defense-man Nate Schmidt drives past several notable monuments honoring brave Americans who have fought for their country. When he gets to the rink and dons the red, white and blue of one of the nation’s hottest NHL teams, he can hardly help but think about what it means to be an American hockey player in 2016.

“The new American defenseman’s game stems from some of the European styles,” Schmidt said after a practice in his home state of Minnesota.

“The American style of playing defense now is to be a two-way defender. You can’t just be a pure offense guy or a pure defense guy anymore. You have to play at both ends of the rink. You see the best American defensemen right now —[ John] Carlson, Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski — can play effectively in both ends.”
From his hometown of St. Cloud, Minn., Schmidt was a good, if not great, blueliner and cut his hockey chops in the USHL, playing well enough with the Fargo Force to earn a roster spot with the University of Minnesota.

Nate Schmidt  #88

Position: Defenseman
Shoots: Left
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 191 pounds
Birth Date: July 16, 1991
Hometown: St. Cloud, Minn.
Junior Hockey: Fargo Force (USHL)
College Hockey: University of Minnesota
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on April 2, 2013
USA Hockey History: Attended USA Hockey Player Development Camps as a 15, 16 and 17-year-old, and was a member of the 2006 and 2007 U.S. Select Teams.

At first, time on the ice with the Gophers was hard to come by as Schmidt skated in just 13 games as a freshman. That number tripled as a sophomore, when he helped the Gophers reach the Frozen Four. After a stellar junior year, Schmidt attracted enough NHL attention that he was signed to a free agent pact by the Capitals in the spring of 2013, and a second contract worth $1.5 million last summer.

Always known as a friendly, talkative, energetic teammate with a permanent grin on his face, Schmidt has made an impression on his teammates with his attitude in the locker room, and his abilities on the ice.
“Obviously he brings a lot of energy and that part of him stays on the ice,” said Carlson, another standout American defenseman for the Capitals. “He brings a lot of fight and a lot of joy to the ice. It’s good for everyone else to have a guy like that who, maybe when the game isn’t going so well, he’s just as up-beat and smiling as ever.”

Even in the high-pressure world of the NHL, where there are million-dollar contracts affected by seemingly every shift, Schmidt plays with the same joy of competition that friends saw a decade ago when he was playing on outdoor rinks in central Minnesota.

“I just stick to my personality type. That’s more where I’m at right now,” Schmidt said. “I bring a lot of energy to the rink and I love being around this group and playing hockey every day, so it’s one of those things for me that is just being me.”

Schmidt first skated for his country as a teen, playing in international tournaments in the U.S. and Europe. While his USA Hockey experience has been limited since then, the thought of donning a different kind of red, white and blue sweater is never far from his mind.

“It’s something that’s hard to put into words when you sit and watch,” Schmidt said. “The 1980 [U.S.] Olympic Team is still something I think about, knowing John Harrington from his time in St. Cloud. Even 2014 when you look at guys like [T.J. Oshie] doing his thing, just to know how that feels because of those colors.”

In the nearer term, with the Capitals flying high and Schmidt contributing to the cause, he figures bringing the Stanley Cup to our nation’s capital would be another great way to honor American hockey.

Jess Myers is a freelance writer and youth hockey volunteer in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

 


 

YOUTH STAR

 

Mark Miller II
Age: 17
Dallas

Since first stepping on the ice nearly a decade ago, Mark Miller II has been dedicated to playing hockey. In fact, he has played on so many teams this self-proclaimed “military brat” has trouble recounting them all.

In the eighth grade, Mark’s perseverance and dedication helped him lead his team in goals and points and earned him an award as the most improved player on his squad.

Now a junior at Keller High School in Dallas, Mark remains as passionate about the game as he has ever been. He says the best part of hockey is just being part of such a tight-knit community.

“I love being with the team, because they’re like a second family. It’s just a high-energy, positive sport,” he says.

Mark’s sense of community extends beyond his team. His love of the game inspired him to spend his summers teaching other kids how to skate. In addition to helping out on the ice, Mark tutors his peers in math and helps his neighbors by babysitting.

But deep in the heart of this Texas native, the passion for hockey burns brightest.

“I’ve met the greatest people, the greatest coaches,” he says. “I would recommend hockey to anyone.”

 

Issue: 
2016-04

Poll

Who is your favorite American player?: