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Q&A: Nick Schmaltz prepares for World Juniors camp

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks

In the middle of a breakout sophomore season for the University of North Dakota, Nick Schmaltz has been tapped for Team USA’s training camp, which takes place from Dec. 15-18 in Boston ahead of the 2016 U20 World Championship in Helsinki. The Blackhawks' 2014 first-round pick was one of a handful of young American forwards on last year’s World Juniors team, which lost in the quarterfinals to Russia. Before he departs for camp, Schmaltz will try to extend his nine-game point streak and add to his impressive point total of 24 points in 18 tilts as UND travels to Minnesota for a weekend set. This week he took some time to chat with about his season so far and his goals for World Juniors.

(Peter Bottini/UND Athletics)

You've got a nine-game point streak going. Are you in a confident place right now?

We've had a lot of success. I'm playing with two really good players, Brock Boeser and Drake Caggiula, and we're creating a lot of plays. The biggest thing for us is that we're playing good defense and coming back hard. Good defense creates good offense, so if we keep playing hard away from the puck to get it back, our skill will take over and we'll keep putting pucks in.

That highlight-reel passing play you and your linemates put together against Miami earlier this season got a lot of national attention. What kind of response did you get after that?

It was a pretty special play. Everyone said they were kind of shocked. Everyone involved in it made a special play at some point, and I was lucky enough to be at the back door and tap it in. But it was those other guys who made the fancy drop passes who deserve much of the credit. [ESPN sportscaster John] Buccigross and some other guys tweeted it out, so I got a few followers after that, but yeah, it was a fun play to be a part of.

World Juniors training camp starts next week. Did you have this circled in your calendar as soon as the tournament ended for you guys back in January?

Obviously it was tough last year. I knew I had to work hard to earn a tryout spot in Boston again. Just because you get called for this camp doesn't mean you're on the team, so there's still a lot of work to do, and I'm looking forward to it.

If you do make the final roster, what are you hoping to prove, as an individual and as a team?

Just showing the rest of the world that we can play with the best teams in the world. We should have a pretty good group. Individually, I'm just trying to play my game, play hard away from the puck and show my offensive abilities.

Your linemate, Boeser, is also on the shortlist. Are you hoping you can take that chemistry with you into camp?

That would be really cool to play with him, because I think we've got something good going here. I guess we'll find out when we get there what the lines are. I'm not too concerned, though—there's a lot of talent that's going [to Boston], so anyone you play with is going to be a good player.

This year's tournament will be played on international ice, meaning a lot more space out there for guys to make plays. Is that going to suit your game more?

I've played tournaments over in Europe—the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, for example. It's not a physical game, but more of a European style where it's high-skill and guys are creating plays. So I think that suits my game, and I'm looking forward to playing on the big ice.

As an offensive player, what kinds of adjustments do you have to make when playing on the bigger sheet of ice in terms of reading and reacting to plays?

You know that you have more time than you think out there, more time to make plays. Defensively, you've just got to be smart; you've got to stay tight up sometimes because if you go running at guys, they might make you look silly because there's a lot of room out there. Just be patient and don't be overly aggressive.

In general, what makes World Juniors a unique tournament?

U18s were pretty cool, but at the U20 level, other than the guys who are in the NHL, it's all the best players from all the countries in that age group. It's just fun to get to play against other guys who are high-end players. It's a good experience and there's a lot of talent.

Is there a team or player you're excited to play against the most?

I'd say Sweden. Both of the Nylander brothers are on that roster, and I played with Willie Nylander for the Chicago Mission, pretty much lived at his house that whole year. Every weekend I was there, so we’re really good buddies, and we still talk today, so I'm really looking forward to seeing him.

If you could play with any two players in 3-on-3 overtime, who would it be and why?

I'd probably say Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. All forwards.

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