Tuesday, April 18, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Nate Schmidt felt like this needed to happen at some point.
He felt there was going to come a time when he would face the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That day is here.
“Why not do it the hard way?” Schmidt said laughing at his locker inside T-Mobile Arena. “Why not do it right away and get it over with?”
Schmidt, one of the more beloved original Golden Knights dating back to the inaugural season, will get his chance against his former team when the Winnipeg Jets teammates face the Golden Knights in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting tonight (6:30 p.m., ATTSN-RM).
On a team that had fan favorites like Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault and more, perhaps none endeared the fans more than the boisterous smile and sense-of-humor of Schmidt.
He was one of the original Golden Knights that, like everyone else on the Year 1 team, had something to prove. Schmidt came over from the Washington Capitals in the expansion draft and had a career-high 31 points as the team’s premier shutdown defenseman.
But facing a former team isn’t anything new to Schmidt. He went through it when the Golden Knights faced the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final in the summer of 2018.
It’s not like Schmidt was hoping for a matchup against Vegas, though he’ll gladly take it. He and the Jets would’ve been fine with whomever they faced as long as they just got into the playoffs. They went 8-6-0 in their final 14 games, but did enough to keep Nashville and Calgary at bay.
“The last 10 days were a pretty big grind for us,” Schmidt said. “It’s good to know wherever you’re going, you have to be a really good team, especially against a good team like Vegas.”
Schmidt, like many of the former Golden Knights, always hoped to retire in Vegas. When he was traded to Vancouver in October 2020, the season that experienced a delay because of the pandemic, Schmidt was not shy in expressing how devastated he was.
“What makes it harder, when you see those guys around … you don’t ever get rid of that feeling of what we had on the Year 1 team,” Schmidt said. “It’s sad, because you wish you could continue to go on and build off it, but that’s the nature of the beast in professional sports.”
The 2021 56-game season was harder on the Canadian teams due to border and travel restrictions. For added mental strain, Schmidt was one of 21 Canucks players to test positive for COVID-19 during a mass team outbreak in April 2021.
Schmidt was traded to Winnipeg three months later and has since found a home with the Jets. The 31-year-old had 19 points this season and was a plus-15 at 5-on-5.
He already had the “welcome back” treatment on Jan. 2, 2022, his first game back to Vegas since those two trades. He won’t be nervous from that standpoint. But Schmidt knows what he’s getting into when he steps on the T-Mobile Arena ice for a playoff game.
“It’s one of the best places to play in the playoffs,” Schmidt said. “This place gets absolutely rocking.”
As for chirping his former teammates, Schmidt has never been known to talk trash. He knows he’s likely to get some words from Marchessault, who is never shy about what he says.
“Hopefully he stays pretty quiet,” Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore said laughing. “Hopefully, our home crowd gives it to him pretty good.”
But while you can take Schmidt out of Las Vegas, you can’t take Las Vegas out of Schmidt. He and his wife Allie — who are expecting their first child in a few weeks — sold their original Vegas home following the trade, but bought a smaller townhouse to use whenever they come back to town.
Schmidt said the Las Vegas community isn’t something he can just walk away from, following the success of the first-year team, and what the franchise did in the community following Oct. 1, 2017. Whenever he gets to come back to Southern Nevada, he’s always happy to be back.
Even if this time, he’s on enemy lines.
“This is where I spend most of my offseason,” Schmidt said. “It’s something I cherish, coming back. It’s good to see a lot of people you interact with, whether it be in hockey or not. That’s part of the outside of being a hockey player, just a person within the community.”
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected] Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.