It's not every day that a Minot native gets the opportunity to lace up his skates and make an impact for a Division I hockey team.
But that's exactly the situation that former Minot High School boys hockey player Bryce Schmitt finds himself in with Lake Superior State University.
Schmitt, a freshman at the Michigan-based university, has played in all 28 games for LSSU, recording three points. The forward tallied his first collegiate goal on Jan. 18 in the second period against the University of Michigan in front of 2,835 fans at Taffy Abel Arena.
Lake Superior State University freshman Bryce Schmitt skates the puck up the ice during a game earlier this season. Schmitt, a Minot native, played for Minot High and the Bismarck Bobcats of the NAHL before joining the Lakers. Photo provided by LSSU Sports Information Department.
"It was nice to get the monkey off the back," Schmitt said. "There are sophomores and juniors on the team that are still looking for their first goals, so it's nice to get it over with."
Schmitt was recruited by LSSU coach Jim Roque during his time playing for the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League. Roque is in his eighth season coaching the Lakers, compiling a 116-139-45 record. Roque began recruiting Schmitt during his final season with the Bobcats.
"He's been a pleasant surprise," Roque said. "We brought him in during the summer and he's done a really nice job. He's a good penalty killer. He plays on the third and fourth lines. He's strong with the puck."
Schmitt's reasoning for choosing LSSU came down to three factors - a small town, small school and a family-oriented team. The quaint city of Sault Ste. Marie, resting on the Canadian border, houses 14,000 people and the university has a current enrollment of 3,000 students, making it the smallest public college in Michigan.
The Lakers have begun their season's final stretch of games and are fighting for a first-round bye in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament. LLSU (13-14-1 overall, 8-11-1 CCHA) sits in seventh place in the 11-team conference, eight points behind fifth-place Ferris State for a first-round bye.
Roque said he sees a lot of potential in Schmitt and expects the freshman to improve throughout his career with LSSU.
"He plays the game the right way," Roque said. "I trust him as far as defensive play. I expect him to keep getting better and better here at Lake State."
Schmitt was a late signee for the Lakers and said he didn't know how his freshman season would fare.
"With me signing so late I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I would have been happy with playing just a few games. But I've been fortunate to play in every game and I want to get in the lineup and do something for the team."
Before joining the Lakers, Schmitt played three seasons with Bismarck, recording 26 goals and 46 assists. He also served as the team's captain in his final year. The Bobcats won the Robertson Cup in Schmitt's first season andcaptured the Central Division regular-season and playoff titles in the 2011-12 season.
"I feel like I grew up pretty quick," Schmitt said. "The NAHL definitely toughens you up because you're playing against older guys."
Schmitt's will was tested during his first season with the Bobcats. His goal had been to play in every game, but that didn't happen during Bismarck's 2010 playoff run. Schmitt played in just three of the team's 11 playoff games, being a healthy scratch for the other eight.
"It was tough," Schmitt said. "I really wanted to get into the lineup. But I expected a little bit of it being in my first year. I feel like I got a pretty fair share so I can't be too upset."
At Minot High, Schmitt was named to both the all-West Region and all-state teams during his sophomore and junior years. He led the Magicians in scoring both seasons, totaling 27 points (19 goals, 8 assists) as a sophomore and 47 points (31 g, 16 a) in his junior season. Schmitt's 31 goals as a junior was the most in the state that season.
"He was a rink rat," MHS coach Chad Burckhard said. "He loved to be at the arena, whether he was playing or watching the younger kids playing. He had the diligence to take the game over and will our team to win at times."
Burchhard's most vivid memory of Schmitt came during a game in Williston in which the Magicians were trailing by a goal with a minute to play in the third period. Minot had just taken a bench penalty for too many men on the ice and found itself on the wrong side of a 5-on-3 power play. The game appeared over until Schmitt took control of the puck behind Minot's net and went the length of the ice, tallying the game-tying goal to send the contest into overtime.
Schmitt decided to take the next step in his hockey career and play junior hockey in the NAHL during his senior season. It was a decision that was a no-brainer to Burckhard.
"He had accomplished what he could accomplish playing high school hockey," Burchhard said. "It was time to turn the page and play at the next level. He liked his teammates, but he was at a stage where it was probably for the best he make a move for himself."
Schmitt doesn't know whether he will look to further his hockey career after he graduates. He is majoring in exercise science with aspirations of becoming a personal trainer. He's also toyed with the idea of getting into coaching, saying he doesn't want to get too far removed from the game he's played his entire life.
For now, Schmitt is living the dream he's had since he was little. And with weekend trips to Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alaska and Bemidji State to name a few, Schmitt has no complaints.