ST. PAUL, Minn.
--- Unsung Hero one day, etched into Minnesota hockey history the next.
On Friday, the Hockey Commissioner's Association named Minnesota-Duluth senior forward Kyle Schmidt the recipient of the fifth annual Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award, established in honor of the former team captain at Army who played from 1999-2003. He was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in September 2006.
"It's a tremendous honor to follow the recipients of this award," Schmidt said. "Although I never met Derek or even saw him compete, he sounds like the player I have always strived to be."
Among a sea of bleach-blonde mops and the euphoria in Minnesota-Duluth's locker room 24 hours later after the Bulldogs captured their first-ever national title, there was no problem picking out Schmidt, the player who scored the championship-winning overtime goal.
The Duluth playoff ritual of bleaching blonde was bypassed by Schmidt, who has a date circled for another memorable weekend come July.
"Just the tips," said the beaming Schmidt, holding court about his goal and dying his hair tips just enough to trim off for his upcoming wedding, while remaining one of the boys.
"Nicole and I have been together almost nine years," he said about his fiancé, "so we're pretty used to each other. We grew up in [nearby] Hermantown and went to high school together. It was the biggest day of my life to know I'd be playing for my hometown [Duluth] team, and now to cap it off like this, words can't describe it. She was right down by the Zamboni doors; my whole family has also been here the whole time. To have all of them here is something special."
As was Schmidt's historic goal, on which he deposited the game-winner behind Wolverines netminder Shawn Hunwick at 3:22 of overtime off a backhand, behind-the-net feed from roommate Travis Oleksuk with Brady Lamb also assisting.
"Maybe [being the only guy without the bleaching] had something to do with it," said the affable Schmidt, who also sports a 3.70 GPA in the School of Science and Engineering at Duluth. "But I think it was more the other guys on my line than me. I was just in the right spot at the right time. Either way, I think I would have buried that one, hopefully, and luckily I did."
Schmidt and Oleksuk are also quite used to each other.
"We've been on the same line for a year and a half now," Schmidt said, "and roommates on the road for three years. I yell so much to T.O. during games; he knew where I was.
"I was expecting T.O. to wrap the puck, when he tossed it out in front he was hugging the post so I more or less had half the net open. He set the whole play up. He heard my call out in front and he got it to me. That's the kind where if you don't, they come down and probably bury it to end the game.
"I couldn't believe it. I just started booking it for the other end; did a snow angel or something. It was a gimme."
While Schmidt's date at the altar is firmly in place, his future hockey career is not a gimme. He's an undrafted free agent as far as the NHL is concerned.
"I don't really want to take [this sweater] off," he also related to NHL.com.
For Schmidt, the goal was the 26th of his career and his 46th overall point.
"Now that my [college] career is done, I don't want [hockey] to be done, but if I am, it's a great way to end it," he said. "I'm definitely looking to play some hockey after this. Hopefully, it happens."
On Campus Clips
Frozen Four All-Tournament Team:
Michigan senior forward Ben Winnett
, freshman defenseman Jon Merrill, and senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick; Minnesota-Duluth senior forward Kyle Schmidt and freshman defenseman Justin Faulk
The Most Outstanding Player was awarded to Duluth freshman forward J.T. Brown.
West First-Team All-America honors:
Goaltender Pat Nagle
, senior, Ferris State University; Defensemen Chay Genoway, senior, University of North Dakota and Justin Schultz
, sophomore, University of Wisconsin; forwards Jack Connolly
, junior, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Matt Frattin
, senior, University of North Dakota, and Andy Miele
, senior, Miami University.
East First-Team All-America honors:
Goaltender Keith Kinkaid, sophomore, Union College; defensemen Brian Dumoulin
, sophomore, Boston College and Blake Kessel
, junior, University of New Hampshire; forwards Cam Atkinson
, junior, Boston College, Chase Polacek
, senior, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Paul Thompson
, senior, University of New Hampshire.