This is the time of year when many Minnesotans start heading southwest, in what is known as the snowbird migration, to avoid the depths of winter. Former Minnesota Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt was already in the southwest, having played for the Vegas Golden Knights since the franchise’s inception in 2017.
With winter coming, Schmidt will be making a northwesterly migration, with the Golden Knights trading him to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday evening in exchange for a third-round draft pick. The move came not long after the Knights inked free agent Alex Pietrangelo to a pricey contract, meaning they needed to move a blueliner for salary cap reasons.
In a Zoom call on Tuesday, Schmidt joked that he didn't own many shirts that are blue, the Canucks' primary color, so he wore a Fargo Force hoodie in his initial meeting with the Vancouver media about the role he envisions for himself there.
"For me, be rock solid, keep my feet moving, defend hard, eat a couple pucks for dinner and be ready to step into a role where I might be one of the older guys on the team now. It's wild to say that," said Schmidt, 29, who admitted Vancouver has always been his favorite NHL road trip. "I'm a pretty fun-loving guy, I'm a little but goofy at times, but when it comes down to it, I love getting to work and being around the guys ... Don't tell anybody, but they pay me to have fun every day. I love what I do."
Schmidt broke into the NHL with the Washington Capitals in 2013 after a season with the Force in the USHL and three seasons with the Gophers. Originally from St. Cloud, he played in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final with the Golden Knights, falling to his former team in six games.
By contrast to Schmidt's move, forward Kyle Rau stayed put, re-signing with the Minnesota Wild for one season at $700,000. He played six games with the Wild in 2018-19, but spent all of last season with their Iowa minor league team.
Three other former Gophers traded places with the start of NHL free agency. Mark Alt, who had been with the Colorado Avalanche, also headed west, signing a one-year pact with the Los Angeles Kings for $700,000. Travis Boyd, who had been with the Capitals, signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs for $700,000. And Vinni Lettieri, formerly of the New York Rangers, is now in the Anaheim Ducks system for one year at $750,000.
A few more former Gophers are free agents that are still looking for a home, including Erik Haula, Seth Helgeson, Justin Kloos and Mat Robson.
Talbot helps save Alabama-Huntsville hockey, for now
A few months before he greatly increased his personal wealth, signing a three-year contract with the Wild valued at $11 million, goalie Cam Talbot helped stave off the execution of his old college hockey program.
Originally from a small town in Ontario, Talbot played three seasons (2007-10) of college hockey at Alabama-Huntsville, back when the Chargers and Bemidji State were members of the now-defunct College Hockey America conference. While telling the local media that he and his family were excited about moving to Minnesota, he said he was not a fan of mid-winter trips to Mankato and Bemidji as a collegian.
“Minnesota’s got some great college hockey teams. They handed it to us a few times when I was in Alabama, so I’m not really a huge fan of their teams,” said Talbot, 33, who played for Calgary last season. “But it’s nice coming to a state like Minnesota that obviously loves hockey, and I’m looking forward to playing in front of their fans.”
Alabama-Huntsville was among three WCHA teams not invited to the new CCHA, and in the spring the school announced they would be dropping hockey. Talbot and other UAH hockey boosters leapt into action at the news, organizing a fundraiser that brought in $750,000 in just a few days, which is enough to continue the program for at least one more season.
Talbot said after UAH helped him get noticed by NHL scouts and gave him the NHL career he has, saving the Chargers, at least temporarily, was his way of saying thanks.
“That’s why I kind of had to help pay back...I think I was doing three, four, five interviews a day trying to get the word out. We donated money to the cause as well,” Talbot said. “I wanted to make sure other kids could get the same opportunity they afforded me. It was crazy four days, but definitely worth it in the end.”
Leaman reaches out to Minnesota for World Juniors advice
The American entry for the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships is being led by Providence coach Nate Leaman, who is working to pick the final roster at a training camp in Michigan this week. With a few Minnesota college coaches having led Team USA in the past, Leaman admitted he’s sought some advice from friends in the State of Hockey.
“I speak with (Gophers coach) Bobby (Motzko) quite a bit, not only about this and about college hockey. I also called (Minnesota State University-Mankato coach) Mike Hastings, had a long conversation with him and I called (Minnesota Duluth coach) Scott Sandelin and had a long conversation with him,” Leaman said. “The common theme is there’s a lot of adversity in the tournament, so get ready for adversity. Another common theme is to take players that are versatile, and can do more than one thing.”
Sandelin coached Team USA in 2020 and 2005. Hastings was the American coach in 2019 when they got the silver medal. Motzko coached Team USA to the gold medal in 2017 and the bronze medal the following year. The 2021 tournament is being held in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
Trying to make the team is Gophers freshman defenseman Brock Faber, who is back home this fall, living on the U of M campus and practicing in preparation for his first college hockey season. His whirlwind week included going to the Kings in the second round of the NHL draft, then heading east to some familiar territory to try out for Team USA.
Before returning to his native Minnesota when the pandemic hit, Faber played two seasons for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Mich., where this week’s tryout camp is being held.
“It’s great to be back here. Spending two years here, you invest a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears here at the rink,” Faber said, in a Zoom call with the national media. “Being here and practicing in the same rink where I played for two years is awesome. It’s great to be back, and I definitely enjoy it. A lot of great memories here.”
New CCHA logo revealed
In a perfect world, we are now less than a year away from the debut of the new Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The eight-team league, led by former Gophers coach Don Lucia in the commissioner role, will include Bemidji State, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Thomas, along with five other teams currently in the WCHA.
On Tuesday the league released its official logo, which it described as “a bold, distinctive interpretation of each of the CCHA letter forms, underlined by a hockey stick using red and blue colors, a classic hockey palette.”
The logo can be customized with each CCHA school’s team colors. St. Thomas offered a version of the logo in purple and grey, which will be worn on their hockey sweaters next season. The logo was designed by Pennsylvania-based Bosack & Co., which has recently designed new logos for well-known college hockey names like Clarkson and Colorado College.
“Today we made another historic step in the branding of the CCHA,” Lucia said, in a statement released by the league. “It is a very exciting time as we prepare to begin play in 2021, and we appreciate all of the work Joe Bosack and his team did to create the visual identity for our new league.”