During the course of a hockey game, players don't have a lot of time to make decisions. Instinct takes over as split-second choices are made about where to go, what to do with the puck or what the next play will be.
Other decisions away from the ice take more time to make and factor in many different variables. For Jimmy Schuldt, his decision to sign with the Vegas Golden Knights following the conclusion of his senior year at St. Cloud State University was an entire year in the making.
"I took about a day and a half with my friends back at St. Cloud before making any decisions," Schuldt said.
The Minnetonka, Minnesota native was faced with the decision of where to begin his professional hockey career weeks before he or anyone else would have expected. The St. Cloud State Huskies were the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but were defeated in the opening round by American International College, 2-1, and hopes of a national championship became dreams for another year for the team's underclassmen. But Schuldt and his fellow seniors had to begin thinking about their own next steps as individuals.
Upon returning to St. Cloud from the regional held in Fargo, N.D., Schuldt began receiving calls from NHL teams eager to sign the skilled, two-way defenseman. While each offer gave Schuldt a lot to contemplate, there were two meaningful phone calls that helped him confirm that he would sign with the Vegas Golden Knights.
"I was able to talk to George McPhee and I had played with Nate Schmidt over the summer, so I got to talk with him which was really helpful," Schuldt said.
Schmidt went through a similar situation when he left the University of Minnesota after his junior year. He compared the experience to being in high school and trying to find the college that would be right fit for him as a person and as a player. He found that with McPhee and the Washington Capitals in 2013 when he and the Gophers, a No. 1 seed, were eliminated from the tournament in the first round and McPhee offered him a contract.
"I knew after my junior year that, since I was almost done with school already, I knew I was close to going pro," Schmidt said. "When you get down to it, you understand there are so many factors that go into deciding. You look at so many depth charts and think about where you'll fit in. You're talking to people and you're being told lots of things whether they're good, bad or indifferent."
Schmidt passed along wisdom that he gained from his experience to Schuldt as he ventures into unfamiliar territory.
"The biggest thing is having a great inner circle," Schmidt said. "You trust your advisors, your agent, your family and your close buddies. Having people that you can bounce ideas off of is so important to that process."
The idea of becoming a Golden Knight was planted in Schuldt's head back in June when he attended the team's development camp. He spent a full week meeting all levels of team staff, skating with coaches and fellow prospects and taking in the sights and sounds of a city that he'd never expected to visit, let alone play hockey in.
"I thought it was so great to meet so many people when I was there," Schuldt said. "The facilities are incredible, but the biggest thing for me was meeting the people that I was going to be around. That's one of the biggest things going for the organization. Being able to sit down with everyone and talk to them face-to-face is a sign of a great organization."
Now that picking where he would take his next steps as a hockey player is behind him, Schuldt's focus is on showing that he's here for a reason as well as to get his feet wet in an NHL setting.
"I'm looking for an opportunity to prove myself, but I was really looking for the right fit for me as a player and as a person," Schuldt said. "I want to show what I've got with this opportunity. I want to get the experience of actually being in the NHL and spending time as a team."
Just as Schmidt received help from teammates when he transitioned from college to the NHL, Schmidt is excited to welcome Schuldt to the Golden Knights.
"He's a welcome addition to our group," Schmidt said. "He's going to come in here and get the lay of the land within our group. That's one thing I was talking to him about: we have a great group and there's a lot of character within our team. No matter who he is or what he wants to be, our group adapts to create that overall culture."