Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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After breakthrough season, Schmidt is inspiration to U teammates

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers, Men's hockey Updated: October 7, 2012 - 10:50 AM

After his hat trick on Saturday in the Gophers' 7-0 rout of Lethbridge, forward Christian Isackson said he hopes to have a turnaround season like defenseman Nate Schmidt had as a sophomore.

"I would be extremely happy for him," Schmidt said. "He worked really hard last year and it showed off [Saturday night]. That he went out there and capitalized on his opportunities.

"He looked good. He looked a lot better than he did last year. He took some strides this summer in the weightroom and it paid off for him."

Schmidt's story should be well-known by now to Gophers fans. As a freshman, the young man from St. Cloud Cathedral struggled and had one goal in 13 games.

As a sophomore, he was second-team all-WCHA, led the nation in assists by a defenseman, was first on the team in power-play points (28), first on the team in blocks (52), first in plus-minus rating (plus-24). He had three goals and 38 assists for 41 points in 43 games.

Who could have predicted that?

LOADED DEFENSE

Schmidt said having a bunch of veteran defensemen and two promising freshmen is a good thing.

"It keeps everyone on their toes, you get to give the other teams a lot of different looks," Schmidt said. "We have a lot of different dynamics of players. It just keeps us very versatile. It keeps us able to do -- play a lot of different styles, be able to come at a team in a lot of different ways.

"It makes us better as a team and it makes us better every day in practice as well."

The Gophers can go big and defensive with 6-4, 215 Seth Helgeson, the only senior on the team. Or assistant Mike Guentzel, who runs the blue line, can throw out shifty, quick-shooting Mike Reilly, a 6-0, 174 freshman. Eight of nine D-men at least 6-foot or taller.

Only blue-liner smaller is 5-9 Ben Marshall, who had a goal and two assists vs. Lethbridge.

Scmidt played with freshman Brady Skjei for the most part on Saturday. They were one of four D-pairs used. [In exhibitions, teams can use more players than the 20 -- 12 forward, six defensemen and two goalies usually -- permitted in a regular-season  game.]

"Brady and I played really well together," Schmidt said, referring to the first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers. "Obviously, in the first period I didn't have an even-strength shift. It took a little while to get actually acquainted with him. But he and I, we communicated really well and there were a couple of plays where it seemed like I had been playing with him for quite some time.

"Then there were also some plays that happened where you could tell that it was our first time playing together. It is just kinks that we are working out early in the season. Maybe I will be playing with him on Monday [in practice], maybe not. It is just the way that things are right now. We will see."

Schmidt was the most outspoken and quotable Gopher last season and he hasn't lost anything there.

ON THE REILLYS

Asked about the two healthy Reilly brothers, Ryan, a forward, and Mikey, a defenseman, Schmidt said, "They looked really good. They are really quick , they are really fast, especially Mikey back end. He moves the puck really well. He is an Alex Goligoski-type player. He is really shifty, really crafty on the blue line.

"You can see him walking across the blue line on the power play. He looks real comfortable back there, which is really going to help us, especially our power-play units in the long run. The more experience both of them get this year, the better off they will be."

Connor Reilly, a third brother and Ryan's twin, was expected to be a top nine forward this season. He is out for the season, though, after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee at a preseason team party.

MORE SCHMIDTY

Team assessment: "We are a long ways from where we want to be. Obviously, tonight was a nice win. We got to see a lot of players play. We got to play everybody. [Only D Blake Thompson and G Ryan Coyne did not play among those healthy.]"

On defense vs. Lethbridge: "We got to shore up our defensive -- especially in the zone. We gave up some quality shots. Some real point-blank shots. We didn't give up a lot [16 shots], but the ones we did give up were real point-blank shots that teams during the season will capitalize on."

On his weight -- he is listed at 6-0, 195 pounds: He said he lost weight during the season last year, "so I tried to start a little higher than I did last season."

 

 

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