Jake Schmaltz walks the same path to the UND hockey locker room every day.
He enters through Ralph Engelstad Arena’s northeast doors, takes the stairs down to ice level, turns left and walks down the hallway.
On his left, there are eight NCAA national championship banners with team members’ names listed below them. The last one has his cousin Nick’s name on it.
Before he swipes his key card to go through the sliding doors and into the locker room, he passes by a tribute to some of UND’s greatest lines. Again, Nick's name and photo are on the last one alongside Drake Caggiula and Brock Boeser.
Once Schmaltz gets into the locker room, he sees more family references. Both of his cousins, Nick and Jordan, are on the NHL Draft board and the NHL alumni wall.
UND may have 14 newcomers on the roster this season — its largest number of new players since 1973 — but not all of them need an introduction to the program.
“The biggest thing around here is the tradition,” said Schmaltz, whose father Marc played for the UND football team. “You walk through these halls every day and you just take it in. It’s unbelievable. You pass all these championships. There’s one goal and I think it’s really fun, because everyone buys in here. The expectation is to win championships and win the league. It’s a team mindset here.”
UND will begin its quest for a third-straight Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions with an overhauled roster. Schmaltz, one of nine freshmen, figures to play a significant role from the beginning.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound forward has been thrust into a second-line center role after Jasper Weatherby unexpectedly signed an NHL contract with the San Jose Sharks a day before the start of the fall semester.
In all, UND lost its top three centers in Collin Adams, Shane Pinto and Weatherby.
“Obviously, with Jasper Weatherby leaving our group, it creates an opportunity for him to elevate in our lineup a little bit more,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “He’s playing a center-ice role and I think he’s doing a really good job so far. We want to keep him going as far as his development.”
Jump with Green Bay
Schmaltz’s development took a big step last season.
The McFarland, Wis., product opted to play a second year of junior hockey after being selected by the Boston Bruins in the sixth round of the 2019 NHL Draft -- a longer road to college hockey than most drafted players.
“Their whole family bought into it,” said Pat Mikesch, head coach of the Green Bay Gamblers. “They knew Jake’s road to the NHL is different than Nick’s. They’ve seen other kids fail out. They wanted to make sure when he went to North Dakota, he’s ready for a major role, not just trying to get in the lineup.”
That road proved to be beneficial.
Schmaltz turned into one of the United States Hockey League’s best forwards last season, tallying 53 points in 51 games for Green Bay. He improved his shot release and scored a career-high 19 goals.
“Jake is a do-extra kid every day,” Mikesch said. “The way he takes care of his body before practice, after practice. . . the extra time he puts in on the ice. . . he’s over the top on it compared to the average USHL guy. He does more than anybody I’ve been around.”
Schmaltz played center for all 100 games of his two seasons with Green Bay. He is projected to remain there in college.
“He has an understanding of his position,” Mikesch said. “He’s a 200-foot player. He’s an outstanding penalty killer. He really improved his faceoffs in his time with us. His offensive game really came last year in some of the harder areas. . . rebound opportunities, tipping pucks and doing things I don’t think he had done a lot in his previous years.”
Although Berry couldn’t watch Schmaltz in person last season — the NCAA banned in-person scouting and recruiting due to the coronavirus pandemic — he watched Green Bay’s games online and noticed Schmaltz’s development.
“He was a lanky body before and he probably needed to develop a little bit more strength and power in his game,” Berry said. “We’re seeing that early on. He’s playing with pace and jump. He’s got a lot of skill, too.”
At home in North Dakota
This spring, UND asked the newcomers to send in their jersey number requests.
Schmaltz sent in two: 8 and 24. Those are the numbers his cousins Nick and Jordan wore during their time in Grand Forks.
Jake received Nick’s No. 8.
That should make it easy on UND fans: same number, same position, same stick tape.
Schmaltz is already feeling at home in Grand Forks, where he attended plenty of games as a child. His grandparents live within a mile of Ralph Engelstad Arena and his uncle is a 10-minute drive away.
“My whole family went here — my parents, their parents,” Schmaltz said. “I’ve been a North Dakota guy ever since I was young.”