Recently Nate Schmidt returned to practice after missing the entire beginning of the season (minus half the first game), AGAIN. Last year Nate was suspended for the first 20 games of the season for PEDs; this year he was out for 12 games with a knee injury. While the Vegas Golden Knights have done a much better job this year, as opposed to last year, without him, Nate’s return is VERY welcomed.
The Knights have won 8 of their 13 games so far. One glaring reason for the 5 losses was a breakdown on the defensive end. Nate’s return to the game brings more stability to defense and allows the Knights to change up the defensive pairings to ones that have more chemistry and are more familiar to the players. But besides the obvious boost that our top defenseman will bring to the blue line, Nate’s return is important for other reasons as well.
I wrote an article last year about the effect of Nate’s return to the game had on the team. I never published it, but I think it’s just as relevant today as it was a year ago. So I’m including it here. Take a look:
The Schmidt Effect- How Nate Schmidt’s Return Was Crucial To The Success of The Vegas Golden Knights
During the 20 game suspension of Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights, there was a lot of commentary on how much of an effect his return would have on the team. Some people pointed out that he was our best defenseman and our defense was falling apart without him. Some said Nate was the “Heart” of our team. Others said that Nate’s return wouldn’t make much of a difference and that things weren’t going to “magically get better” by having him back. <= The latter was wrong, but for the right reasons.
Since Nate’s return the Vegas Golden Knights on November 18th, the Knights have won 6 out of 7 games. Prior to that night, they struggled to win even 2 in a row! Impressive, yes. Magic, no.
If you rewatch the games since Nate’s return, you’ll notice that Nate isn’t making game-changing saves, or really doing anything on the ice to show that his presence was absolutely necessary. Instead, you’ll see that the Knights suddenly start playing with more intensity, speed, and determination. It hasn’t always been clean; some of the games were quite sloppy despite the win. To the stat analyzer, it can be hard to pinpoint the change or give credit to any one person for the change in momentum. But to the team, and those of us that value chemistry and game mentality, it’s obvious that Nate has changed the game.
Nate, much like Fleury, brings positive, light-hearted energy to the team.
In a world where your worth is determined by your performance, it can be stressful. And in any sport, if you come into a game with fear, stress, or anxiety, you aren’t going to play your best. Last year the Knights weren’t expected to do well. The players had all been shown by their previous teams that they weren’t worth protecting. So they all came into the game with little to lose. With little expectations, it’s a lot easier to play with no fear of poor performance. Because of this, and the team bonding that occurred because of the Oct. 1st tragedy, the Knights came out fearless and showed the world they were wrong to think so little of them.
This year, however, there are high expectations. With new contracts and a previous year’s performance to live up to, there’s immense pressure to perform on the Knights. The Knights had pressure to perform last year as well, but it came with positive momentum that they could build off of. This year they had nothing to build off of but a fear of how they were going play with the loss of several key players (trades, suspensions, and injuries).
My point is this: professional athletes go through ups and downs in their game mentality. If you aren’t in the right mindset, where you play with confidence and determination, then you aren’t going to play well. Nate Schmidt helps his teammates to have a positive mindset. His infectious smile and positive personality bring a calm and lighthearted nature to the team. It’s in the locker room before a game where your mindset solidifies before playing. With Nate hollering, goofing off, and just being Nate, it’s probably hard to focus on anything negative. Can’t be afraid when you’re laughing and having fun…
While the Knights have been doing okay this year, with the amount of talent this team has, they could be doing better. The return of both Nate Schmidt and Alex Tuch means things can change dramatically. Nate provides strength to the defense, and Tuch brings the final piece to the puzzle on a third line that could be a team’s first line! I think we will be seeing the Knights start to step up and show the rest of the NHL who’s looking to take home the Cup this year.