On the ice, Nate Schmidt has a serious impact with his ability to start the breakout with both his skating and passing.
Off the ice, Schmidt isn’t nearly so serious. He describes himself as “goofy” — “I’m a pretty fun-loving guy, I’m really goofy at times” — and, in his first media availability since getting traded to the Canucks, he couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. It’s clear that he has a big personality that will quickly win over Canucks fans.
He quickly won over the media, that’s for sure. He gave lengthy and thought-out answers that were completely devoid of the usual hockey clichés, sending notice to every reporter that they have a new source in the Canucks locker room for quotes and enjoyable conversations.
He signalled his goofy sense of humour as soon as the call started. When the Canucks PR representative reminded the media to use the “raise hand” function on Zoom if they had a question, Schmidt dutifully raised his hand to demonstrate, then chuckled to himself, shoulders shaking like Muttley.
It wasn’t the last laugh. He erupted into laughter when Thomas Drance of The Athletic pinpointed Schmidt’s tendency to let out a “whoop!” when he joins the rush. His delight that Drance even picked up that tendency was one of the highlights of the call. It certainly helps that Drance was one of the few reporters in the playoff bubble and could hear the sound echo through an empty arena.
“It was something that Justin Williams, one of my favourite guys I’ve ever played with,” said Schmidt, then took a moment to look into his camera and wish Williams well on his retirement. “He did it a few times in training camp and I asked him why, and he was just, ‘I don’t know, I feel like everyone knows it’s me.’ So I did it as well. There were times in games where I would ‘whoop’ at him and he said, ‘Yeah, I knew you were there because no one else talks to me like that.’ I guess it’s second nature now, it just happens. If guys hear it, they know it’s me, and it’s always really loud and piercing.”
In fact, one of the few concerns Schmidt has about joining the Canucks is that his loud personality might not be accepted in a new locker room.
“I hope the guys aren’t too sensitive about me being too loud and goofy sometimes in the locker room,” he said. “I guess that’s what I’m most afraid of.”
No one was going to complain about a loud personality in Vegas, the loudest city in the NHL in several senses of the word, with its neon lights, garish colours, and over-the-top atmosphere. It’s where Schmidt was first given a chance to play top-pairing minutes on the ice and be himself off it.
“Thank you so much for embracing me and letting me be my lovable, goofy self,” said Schmidt when he got the chance to address Golden Knights fans directly by a Vegas radio host on the call. “Forever a misfit. Our run together is something that can’t be matched. I just want to say thank you...there is truly a special place for me for the community of Las Vegas.”
As much as Schmidt was full of smiles and laughter, there was clearly some real emotion about leaving Las Vegas. As Schmidt pointed out, he got the chance to be with a team from the very beginning and help them grow. He touched on the tragic shooting on the Las Vegas strip in 2017 that took place less than a week before the team’s first game.
Unexpectedly, that shooting forged a bond between the expansion team and their city, as the team honoured first responders to that tragedy on opening night and made connections in the community that went well beyond the ice. The players were among the first to visit victims in the hospital and volunteer at blood banks. It didn’t hurt that the team won 9 of their first 10 home games.
“What we went through as a group and what the city went through on October 1st,” said Schmidt, then paused. “Vegas, it gets a different rap. As a guy that visited there when I was in college, or visited before I played there, you think, ‘This is a great little strip in the middle, it’s awesome, what a time.’ But then you get outside the city and realize what a phenomenal place and what a phenomenal group of people.
“For a guy like me, that character, that type of welcoming, that warmth that people feel towards the guys and how we were treated and how the community was so embracing is something that I’ll never forget.”
Understandably, it was tough for Schmidt to accept the reality that he had been traded and he was admittedly a little blindsided when it happened.
“Last night was hard. You put down some roots in a place, you’re there from the beginning, which is always something special,” said Schmidt. “I didn’t hear anything until the deal was done. You know with Pietrangelo coming in that something had to give...it was a tough pill to swallow.”
“It was emotional last night,” he added. “You put your heart and soul into it with the group and see how things turn out and they never turned out.”
While it was tough for him to leave Vegas, Schmidt warmed to the idea of playing in Vancouver after giving it some thought. In fact, he was ebullient about coming to Vancouver for multiple reasons, starting with the city itself.
“Vancouver has been my favourite place, you can ask Braden [Holtby] if you get a chance,” he said in reference to the Canucks’ new goaltender, who he played with on the Washington Capitals and is one of his best friends. “It's been my favourite place to come visit on the road, it's always my favourite city. There's always a buzz around the rink, you have a passionate fan base.”
He even suggested speaking to the media was one of the highlights of Vancouver: “We get to speak with you guys a lot more often. You get to see my ugly mug a little bit more!”
He was particularly excited about the Vancouver Christmas Market, which has regrettably been postponed this year.
“They have this awesome Christmas market that I buy my mom ornaments from every year and I'd bring them home,” he said with a laugh. “It’s right downtown, so I always found that to be awesome, we always used to come there around Christmas time.”
Of course, there are also attractive aspects to Vancouver on the ice. Schmidt is familiar with Brock Boeser — who he called “Brocker” — from playing together in Da Beauty League in Minnesota during the summer. He described him as “A funny guy, he cracks me up. I like him, he’s a good egg.”
Mostly, he’s excited to have some skilled forwards to whom he can pass the puck.
“My D coach in college used to always say, ‘Schmidtty, get the puck to the skilled guy,’ and thankfully we have plenty of those,” he said. “A lot of guys that can wheel and deal and make plays. I’m pretty sure I can remember Mr. Pettersson spinning me into a top last year to Brocker back door, so fortunately for me, I don’t have to see that stuff anymore.”
That would be a reference to this ridiculous Pettersson assist from his knees after Schmidt tripped him up following a giveaway from his longtime defence partner Brayden McNabb.
Schmidt also talked about the possibilities of who he might play with, whether on a shutdown pair or a more run-and-gun pairing with Quinn Hughes.
“If I’m playing the right side, it’s being a steady, stable guy that can jump up in the play, get my feet moving and help the team in some hard minutes,” he said. “I take pride in playing against the other team’s top line and doing my damnedest to shut guys down as best you can and give our guys an opportunity to be successful.”
Beyond the excitement about his new teammates — and rejoining a couple of old ones in Holtby and Jay Beagle — Schmidt is eager to play with a team that is on the rise.
“There was a buzz about [the Canucks] in the bubble. There was a buzz about their young players and the talent they have, especially up front and then on the backend with Quinn Hughes, sprinkled in with some veteran guys that have been around the league,” said Schmidt. “This team has got a tremendous feel, a team that went down 3-1 in the series and never allowed us in Vegas to take over the game and say ‘That’s it, it’s over.’
“That’s something that’s very admirable. That's the kind of team that you want to be a part of. You want to be a part of a group of guys that will fight for each other tooth and nail all the way down.”
“With each passing hour, the excitement has been increasing,” he added.
The same should be true for Canucks fans as they welcome Schmidt to the team.