Nick Schmaltz remembers sitting next to his mother and father at the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh, Penn. It was the summer of 2012 and older brother Jordan was projected as a high end draft pick at the NHL Entry Draft.
“I had some butterflies in my stomach,” said Nick, before hearing Jordan's name selected by St. Louis with the 25th pick. “It was getting late into the first round and we didn't know if he was going to go or not – he was kind of a borderline guy. We waited about two to three hours and he got picked. It was an awesome day.”
As Nick enters into his draft year he finds himself in a similar situation, as a top-ranked prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft. The 17-year old is one of only three A-rated prospects on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list of players to watch from the United States Hockey League (USHL).
Nick is second-year forward with the Green Bay Gamblers – the same team his brother, a defenceman, won a Clark Cup with in 2012. Both Schmaltz's also played for the under-16 Chicago Mission, and Nick is committed to the University of North Dakota, where Jordan is in his sophomore year.
“He's been a pretty big influence,” said Nick, when asked about the brothers' nearly identical hockey careers. “I've looked up to him and been proud of what he's done so far. I try to follow him and I'm working hard to be half as successful as he has been.”
North Dakota was an obvious choice for Nick, who was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team last season with 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) in 64 games. Nick is native of Verona, Wis., but his parents were raised in Bismarck, N.D., and his father and two uncles played college football at North Dakota.
“There was a pretty obvious family influence there,” said Jordan. “We also talked about having the chance to play together one day, and I think that had a big impact on his decision as well.”
Nick and Jordan suited up together on one other occasion – Jordan's final season with the Gamblers, when Nick was recalled from minor midget. The brothers played 10 games together at Green Bay, which was the first time they saw their names on the same roster outside of summer hockey or pick-up games on the outdoor rink.
“That was pretty special,” said Nick, who was 15 at the time. “I was a little nervous at first with some of the older guys, but it was really fun and [Jordan] was a good leader for me. He showed me the way and made the transition easy; I hope I get to play with him again next year.”
This year Nick will once again follow in his brother's footsteps as he suits up for the U.S. at the World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S.
Jordan made two appearances at the tournament, winning a gold medal in 2010 and bronze in 2011. This year's tournament will mark Nick's third international appearance. He recorded nine points and won a silver medal at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in addition to representing the United States at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Austria.
“It's an honour every time I get to put on the jersey,” said Nick. “Not many kids get to do that, so I take pride and make sure I make the most of it.”
Nick will have some familiar faces joining him in Yarmouth; Green Bay head coach Derek Lalonde will serve as bench boss for the U.S. squad, while two fellow Gamblers – Matthew Weis and Jordan Gross – will don the red, white and blue, and a former teammate from midget – Seamus Malone – has also been named to the roster.
“I'm excited to play with a bunch of great players from the USHL,” said Nick, who will be making his first visit to Eastern Canada. “I've been told [Yarmouth] is a small town and people are hockey crazy, so it should be fun. I think it will be a good experience to see other Junior A teams from around the world and hopefully we can bring home the gold.”
The United States has captured gold four of the past five years at the tournament. Nick hopes to do the same this year, with a little advice from his older brother.
“I just tell him to control what you can control and play hard,” said Jordan. “It's all about the simple things. I don't try and put too much on him – he's a mature kid and he knows what he has to do.”