"I am excited for it," Gophers sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt said, asked about his team playing at St. Cloud State on Friday. "It should be an awesome ride."
He said he went to a lot of Gophers-Huskies game growing up in St. Cloud. "It's something else," he said. "It is really the atmosphere. They sell three deep and standing room. And you can't really see the game if you are not there an hour early.
"It is definitely a dream come through for me [to] go home and play."
The Gophers did not play at St. Cloud State last season. The only time the two teams met was in a late October series at Mariucci Arena and they split. As a freshman, Schmidt was not always in the line-up either. He played in only 13 games.
Now he is one of six regulars on the blue line and quarterbacks the top power play unit. He has one goals and a team-high 12 assists for 13 points, the most of any Gophers defenseman.
"Growing up, I have to say, I can't lie to you guys, I had my season tickets as a Huskie with my dad," Schmidt said. "And we would go to a lot of home games. It was tough. We cheered against every team that came in including the Gophers. So it is one of those situations, now that the tides have changed a little bit as I have matured and grown up. It is something I have bear with now that I am coming home.
"[But] I can't be happier that I am a Gophers and being here [at the University of Minnesota]."
Schmidt said the Gophers need to have a strong first period at the National Hockey Center tonight. "That's the biggest thing in that arena," he said. "The energgy is going to be off the richter-scale and everyone is going to be excited. First time we have been there in a couple of years."
SPLIT AT WISCONSIN
"Wisconsin did a really good job of harnessing the energy we tried to get going the first [game]," Schmidt said, referring to last weekend's series in Madison, Wis. "They bogged down some of our key players. They kept our top guys off the scoresheet and that was the biggest thing. When we don't get some of our guys to get around the net, getting those grimy, dirty goals, it is tough for us to get going."
The Badgers won the first game 3-1 over the Gophers, who were shut out until Jake Hansen scored a power play goal with under two minutes left.
"Obviously, just the biggest thing for us is energy," Schmidt said. "Our fourth line provides energy and they played really well the past couple of weekends and that is what we have been feeding off of. When we don't get that thing going, it's tough. especially in a building like that. The Kohl Center was tough to play in."
The Gophers won 4-1 Saturday. "It was a good feeling. Obviously, you are sitting there -- It was a long waiting period from Friday to Saturday night with the video that we went through and the meetings," Schmidt said. "Everyone was antsy to see how we would respond?
"And the coaches said it: 'Are you guys for real? Or are you guys going to come out and be the team we think that you are capable of being? Or are we going to lay down because we didn't have success [last Friday] night? I thought we proved -- games like that are going to happen. That we are going to have those situations where we are not on, like that Friday night. But to come back on Saturday, it was a good bounce back for us."
Schmidt said when a handful of Wisconsin's football players brought Paul Bunyan's Axe out in the middle of the third period, that helped turn the game around. The Gophers led only 2-1.
"They had killed off that five-minute penalty," he said, "and I thought we were in a vulnerable position. We try to build energy off of getting good shots and we maybe didn't have a lot of good chances.
"And when they brought that [axe] on the ice, their whole crowd got involved. But when you looked down our bench and you saw everybody grit their teeth, clench their fist, ready to go -- it kind of gave us an added incentive to go out there. Like, hey, they are not going to beat us tonight. Obviously, the [Gophers] football team lost. That is out of our control. But what is in our control is what happens in the third period."
What happened was Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon, a Wisconsin native, scored unassisted goals that were unanswered after the axe came out.
The Gophers are 12-5-3 on the road since the start of last season, including 5-1 so far this season. Why is there away record that good?
"It is the whole [eliminating] distractions. Getting in the hotel room, we kind of keep together as a team," Schmidt said. "Having everybody in an enclosed area, is something that is really helpful for us. Everyone keeps their mind-set really clear and open. ... It is easier to play loose on the road. At home is when all the pressure of performing in front of the home fans [is there]. On the road, you are just trying to salavage points. And we have been doing pretty well at doing that."
Schmidt said it will be emotional for him to be back at the National Hockey Center.
"But the beauty of it for me is, I played in the rink growing up," Schmidt said. "I know the bounces of the rink. That is not going to be so much of a change as the atmosphere [is]. I am playing in front of friends and family."
* Schmidt said his St. Cloud Cathedral team used to scrimmage often against Little Falls. Two former Little Falls players, Ben Hanowski and Jared Festler, are now two of the Huskies' key players. "They are very good players," Schmidt said. "They are the key players on their team for this year. .. The best part is battling guys you grew up against.
"We would practice power play, penalty kill with [Little Falls] once in a while. So we got to know those guys pretty well.
"It does not get much better than this. In-state rivalry against your old buddies for the stakes as high as they are. You can't ask for much more."
* St. Cloud State students can attend any regular-season home hockey games in 2011-12 by showing a valid SCSU student ID card at the gate.