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Blackhawks standout Nick Schmaltz returns for camp: 'You wish you could play more games here'

Former UND hockey player Nick Schmaltz, who now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks, skates during an informal practice earlier this week at the REA Olympic Arena. Photo/Nick Nelson, Grand Forks Herald

In the spring of 2014, Nick Schmaltz was a high school senior watching Chicago Blackhawks games from the stands and occasionally tweeting about the remarkable skills of star forward Patrick Kane.

In the next two-and-a-half years, Schmaltz became a first-round NHL draft pick, went to college at UND, scored the program’s most iconic goal of its NCAA national championship season, turned pro and ended up playing on a line with Kane in the NHL.

What was it like to go from tweeting about Kane to setting him up for goals at the United Center in the span of 30 months?

“It was definitely shocking at first,” Schmaltz said. “Once you get to know him and play with him, he’s a great guy. He’s really humble. He’s done a lot in his career. You’d think he’d be some flashy guy but he’s always one of the last guys off the ice in practices. He’s always hanging out with us, trying to get better and teaching us stuff.

“Definitely, as younger guys, we look up to him and try to emulate some of the stuff he does in his game and how hard he works to be where he’s at.”

Schmaltz may have been wide-eyed two years ago when he first started with the Blackhawks, the NHL’s dynasty team of the 2010s, but that won’t be the case this fall.

Schmaltz, who is working out at UND’s pro camp in Ralph Engelstad Arena’s Olympic Rink this week, is expected to be one of Chicago’s stars.

From his rookie season to his second year, Schmaltz more than tripled his goal total (six to 21 goals) and nearly doubled his point total (28 to 52 points). He finished tied with fellow former UND player Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat for second in scoring on the team.

The only Blackhawks player with more points than Schmaltz last year was Kane. The two were often times linemates and connected for multiple highlight-reel goals.

“We work on stuff all the time together after practice,” Schmaltz said. “We think the same way out there. We’re always looking for each other. He has a super high IQ. He’s a heck of a player. He makes it a lot easier for myself just to find open areas and he’ll put it on my stick.”

Schmaltz’s increase in points was similar to the jump he experienced between his first and second years at UND.

Now, he’s back on campus, working out with several former teammates, including his brother, Jordan, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Christian Wolanin, Gage Ausmus, Keaton Thompson, Luke Johnson, Cam Johnson and Trevor Olson.

“It’s awesome,” Schmaltz said. “It’s always fun to be back here. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever played and lived. You miss it every time you come back. You wish you could play more games here, go to school and hang out with the boys all the time. But if we can come up here for a week every summer, that’d be awesome to get something going, see all the old teammates, see what they’re doing and have fun with them -- not only on the ice.”

Schmaltz has gotten used to seeing a number of his old teammates in the NHL.

“It’s pretty cool to see how many guys from that one team are still playing at such a high level,” Schmaltz said. “It goes to show you what a heck of a program North Dakota is and how they develop players and how many high-end prospects they get year in and year out.

“I always try to get dinner with one of them on the road if we come in a night early. It’s always fun to catch up, see how they’re doing and hang out for a bit.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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