For the past four seasons, defenseman Nate Schmidt has been a fan favorite in Washington, always greeting everyone with a smile and always willing to take a photo after practice. But for me, he is THE favorite. And after hearing the news that he was headed west to the Vegas Golden Knights, I was crushed. This is a letter to my favorite player and a person and player that every hockey fan in D.C. loved.
While I’ve only met you in person once during your time as a Washington Capital, it is one of the highlights of my life as a Capitals fan. In case you don’t remember that meeting, this article will explain what happened, but you’ve left an impact on not only me, but every single Caps fan with your always upbeat attitude and hard work ethic. Here is my reflection letter to you.
For the longest time, I had always thought of Alex Ovechkin as my favorite player, but it was a chance encounter in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in January 2015 that turned me into a Nate Schmidt fan forever. My family and I try and attend a Hershey Bears game every year and as we were walking onto the elevator a man and another man who appeared to be his father were getting off. At the time, I was wearing a Capitals hat and as they were getting off, the younger of the two men looked at my hat and said goodbye. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on where I had seen him before.
It was only when we got to our room that I realized it was Schmidt. At that time, Schmidt had been sent to Hershey to get more playing time, as the veteran defensemen in Washington were preventing him from getting needed playing time. However, during one of his first games back, Schmidt had injured his shoulder after being hit into the Giant Center boards. My dad and I walked down to the lobby to see if we could catch up with Schmidt. But there as no sign of them. My dad happened to see them in the pool area sitting at the hot tub. I told him that I didn’t want to disturb them, but he had already walked in! Turns out I had nothing to be nervous about, as Nate and his dad, Mike, were as nice as could be (you shouldn’t expect anything less from the always-grinning Schmidt).
We talked to Nate and his dad for about 15 minutes and he told us about his injury, saying that the doctors had told him he basically fractured his shoulder blade and that they had never really seen anything like it before. He told us that he had called past teammates and former pros that had dealt with similar injuries, but none had much of an answer for him. The next night was game night and, as my sister and I were getting on the elevator, Nate and his dad walked in as well. They were staying right down the hall from us, which was hard to believe.
Those two nights turned Nate Schmidt, an undrafted free agent from the University of Minnesota, into my favorite player. While some players would have asked to be left alone, Nate took the time to talk to us and while everyone knows what a good person he is, I was lucky enough to see it first-hand. While other sports’ athletes are genuine people off the field or court, hockey players are without a doubt, the best.
In four seasons in the District, Schmidt recorded 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) in 200 games played. During this time, he proved himself worthy of a Top 4 role, something he would’ve certainly seen next season had he remained with the Caps.
While it’s hard to see him go, I wish him the best of luck in his career in Vegas and hope Nate knows that I will be cheering him on the entire way. Good luck Nate! We’ll miss you here in Washington!