Jets’ Nate Schmidt on life in Winnipeg, happiness and fan interactions: Q&A

Nate Schmidt is a renowned “vibes” guy.

A quick YouTube search of his name yields an NHL network result entitled “Nate Schmidt: Best Interview in Hockey?”

The day he was traded to Winnipeg, my inbox flooded with reports from other reporters that Schmidt would be a treat to work with. Then, the first time he spoke to Jets media, he left us laughing so hard that Adam Lowry — the next man up on that day — got a softer, lighter-hearted group of questions from us as a direct result. Soon, Lowry was laughing too.

Schmidt is so exuberant and engaging that the Washington Capitals even developed a “safe word” they could use if they ever really, really needed Schmidt to calm down.

All of these qualities made Schmidt the perfect candidate to take questions directly from you, The Athletic subscribers. Catching him for an interview proved elusive early, as an unfortunate injury took Schmidt out of the Jets lineup (and thus Winnipeg’s media rotation) in December.

But you’ve seen Schmidt back on the ice for two games now — Winnipeg’s 4-2 win against Tampa Bay on Friday and its 7-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

His impact on the ice and in the room is so well felt that when Axel Jonsson-Fjällby was asked about the surprise howitzer he unleashed in scoring Sunday’s game-winning goal, Jonsson-Fjallby’s first instinct was to joke about his tape job.

“I changed (my) tape job for today, changed to white tape,” Jonsson-Fjällby said. “I used Schmiddy’s brand there, ‘Short Side’, so I guess that was it.”

No matter what we write by way of preamble, I’m sure you’d like to get straight to Schmidt.

Here, the Jets defenceman answers questions directly from subscribers (with a few follow-ups from yours truly), talking classic cars, Winnipeg beauty, the time a fan left him speechless, his favourite video game characters, the way he makes it his “personal vendetta” to lift people’s spirits and how he manages his own happiness and takes care of himself during the long, cold Manitoban winter.

What is the biggest change in perception you have had about Winnipeg when you consider what you heard about the city before becoming a Winnipeg Jet versus now that you have had opportunity to live in it? — Matthew L

It brings me back to home. Winnipeg’s a lot like Minnesota. I’d say this: I’ve travelled to some different places, some big metropolises, some warm climates. So your first perception is you see hockey and you see winter. And that’s it. When you get to Winnipeg, you see it’s a small community that has such a passion for not just hockey, but for being a part of Winnipeg. It’s not just a hockey-related town. There’s a lot more to this place than meets the eye and I think that last year, the first half of the year, with how cold it was last year, it was like, “Oh god. I remember why I don’t like Minnesota winters.” Especially with spending years in the desert, right?

This year, that’s another story. It’s been fantastic. Knock on wood. *Schmidt knocks on wood* I could do this all day every day and love it. It’s amazing. I think that was the biggest part of what this town actually is. There’s just so many small little pockets of beauty in this city that I have grown to love. We bought a house and have been through a whole renovation but it’s been awesome. To see what that’s finally come to. And now, with Ally … My wife is pregnant right now. So now we’re building core memories. We’re due in May so hopefully I’m still playing hockey but we’re making core memories here. That’s part of home. That’s really changed our perspective a lot in terms of making this home.

Now that you’ve experienced Winnipeg winter do you shovel? Or own a snowblower? Fancy snow brush for the car or the basic? — Timothy C.

Oh, my dad’s gonna kill me when he hears this answer. The house we bought has two separate driveways. There’s one to get into the garage and there’s a small one to get to the front of the house. With my wife, I was like, “Hey, there’s a lot of times I’m gone and you’re pregnant. I don’t want you to be shovelling a bunch and doing that stuff.” So a guy in the neighbourhood, I don’t want to call him a kid — he’s like 25 — comes over and shovels. It’s people helping people. But I will tell you this: Truthfully, it does kill me a little bit I don’t shovel my own snow. This would be the first time ever.

But deep down, you can find memories of shovelling, right?

I love it. I still do. When it’s a small dusting, though, I’ve changed my mentality. I don’t know if people use a leaf blower … Like if it’s a super small dusting, we’ll leaf blow it. That’s a little easier.

Do you shovel left-handed, like you shoot?

I go both. I have to go both. Even during the week, I’ll take right-handed shots. So when I was in Vegas, a bunch of baseball players … A lot of baseball players call Vegas home in the offseason. And why not? It’s a nice area to be in, it’s warm, and they can be outside and train. So a bunch of us went to take batting practice and they were telling me they take 75 swings a week opposite hand. Because what happens is you get such a pattern of swinging the same way that you have to, like, even your back out and swing the other way. So in Washington, a couple of guys started doing it. I will do it a couple times after practice, just grab a righty and take some shots. It’s fun but it’s mainly for that — just to get your body trained to go the other way. Because think about it. You only twist this way all way every day.

Nate, who is your go-to Super Smash Bros. character? — Lyndon R.

Oooooh. I play Super Smash Bros. all the time in the summer at my cabin.

I bet you’re a Wario guy — Dylan Samberg

*Schmidt gives his best Wario laugh*

No, he’s not on … Wario’s not a Super Smash Bros. character on the original. This is on N64. My original guy I liked … I loved DK. DK or Mario. If I had to give an undercover one, it would be Captain Falcon.

So I didn’t read this part out loud but Lyndon’s question actually added “please say it’s Captain Falcon.”

Captain Falcon is my third pick. You know, you obviously pick the first one and then the second one. It depends who I’m playing against. If I’m playing against rookies and novices I’m picking DK just because it’s more fun. I like to screw around with them. If I’m playing against really good players, I pick Mario or Captain Falcon.

Got any classic cars in Winnipeg? Plan on going to any car shows? — Derek S.

You’re a car guy, what do you drive around Winnipeg during the season? — Kevin K.

How about this: If anyone knows a car show on the horizon, I would be a huge fan of that. I haven’t found it yet. And I’m too afraid to drive them in the winter. I just have a good open air Jeep, which I didn’t get to show on the show because it was down at my sister’s place because we take it to beach volleyball every Tuesday. We play in a co-ed volleyball league: me, my wife, my sister and my buddy. We all get the back of the ’81 Jeep and we just roll into beach volleyball. I’m a huge fan.

In regards to your “Bar Rescue” episode, is it hard not laughing when Jon Taffer is going off on the employees? I get it’s very serious for them, but seeing how animated he gets, I don’t think I could hold it together. — Eric S B.

I was scared out of my mind. I was. So Ryan Reaves and I, we knew him, we did a charity event. He’s a big Knights fan. So we did a charity event with me, Ryan, and Jon Taffer, the host of the show. And then he said, “Hey, you guys want to come out and be the recon team?” (Author’s note: In “Bar Rescue,” Taffer offers his professional expertise, renovations and equipment to desperately failing bars, in an effort to save them from closing.) And we said hey, why not? So we flew up for the day and did it. It was amazing. I had an awesome time, got to kind of be backstage and see his process and how they flip these bars and stuff. It’s really cool.

It was hard because I was scared. He’s an intimidating guy. Nice guy, well spoken, and then when you get him in his mode of being on the show, he’s got some serious jam. He was intimidating. I was legitimately nervous.

What do you feel are keys to the mindset that goes with being happy as a player with family in a small, rather isolated northern market? — Dan O.

You know, what I’ll tell you is that the key is not trying to be that way every day all day. Like I go home and I have my downtime. I enjoy as much as I can within the day. Like when I’m at the rink, I love it. There’s not a lot of jobs where you get to hang out with guys your age, travel around the world — or around the country, or around North America — and be able to do this. That comes with a lot of stress. Having to perform, that part obviously weighs on you, but I find that this game … It’s amazing. And I never wanted to be the guy that looks around like, “Oh, I’m getting older.” But there is a definitive end to it. And I guess that’s what’s …

I don’t want to say I hid but I didn’t really see let anybody else see who I was when I was growing up. My family knew who I was, kind of like goofy like this, but in public, I wouldn’t be like that. I was a little more trying to be that cool guy, be a little bit quieter, and not say much. And when I left college, I was like: I don’t really want to do that anymore. I just want to be me. I don’t really care what other people think. And ever since I started living like that, this has been me for the last — for the whole time, but I came out of my shell a bit more. I think everybody has a side they’re a little afraid to show.

And I always find that a smile, for me, goes such a long way. There are times when you run into somebody, they’re not having a great day, and a lot of times it’s like my personal vendetta of getting them back. I’m gonna make them happy today. Because I want to try to bring a lot of jam to my day. But trying to do it every day, all day every day, is exhausting.

You’ve got to recharge somehow.

I do have to have a little bit of downtime — and it’s OK. The hardest part is when we go to an event or we do things and you see people, like if I’m picking out almond milk someone grabs me like “Hey man!” I’ve been caught off guard a few times but no, it’s good. And I try.

They say this thing where, if you’re having a bad day, look at yourself in the mirror and smile as hard as you can for a minute and see if you can get yourself to laugh. Things start to kind of melt away.

Are you generally pretty good at succeeding in getting the laugh?

I would tell you that I haven’t had to do it very often. The hard part is not making hockey a part of your happiness. You know, at the rink. Say you have a bad day. But like, your family isn’t having a bad day at home or the clerk at the grocery store or someone else. You don’t have to project that bad day on anybody else. So that would be my biggest thing that I try and do. Also, my dad really ingrained that into me, that I don’t care how bad of a day that you’re having. I don’t care what that person said. No matter how mad I am, I still have to *Schmidt inhales, as if to demonstrate collecting himself.* That’s a big one. And I really kind of drags you out of it, too.

How do you express negative emotions?

My negative emotions are usually I just, I have to shut down for a bit. I just need a minute. My wife will know if I’ll need like 20 minutes where I just do my thing. Let me get this out. And she’s actually forced me to talk to her, like, “Tell me what’s wrong. Or write it down.” That’s been my new thing this last couple of years and it’s been working awesome. Before I go to bed or if I’m sitting there and something’s pissing me off, I’ll write it down and put it down there and then it’s out of my mind. I used to write everything out but it’s a little easier when you have a phone on you all of the time. I have a note in my phone.

Last night, for instance, it wasn’t anything bad. It was just “Make sure you do this and this tomorrow” to get it out of my head. And once it’s out of my head, it’s like “Oh yeah, I’ve got this.” I mean, you write things down all of the time.

Yes.

But it’s never really your own stuff. Well, maybe it is.

Less now than before. But I understand the value. Personal writing is like going to the gym. You never regret it. You could have the worst workout and it’s still better for you than not …

Than not doing it. For sure. That’s what I have to do. I get lyrics stuck in my head from a song and I write it down in my phone — exactly how it is — and then I put it away and I’m good. That’s how I usually deal with my negative side. Because it happens. It happens to everyone.

When active players of this generation talk about the greatest players in the game past or present, what names typically come up? Do the kids still talk about (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mario) Lemieux or has too much time passed since those greats played to have relevance with this younger generation? — AndyWpg.

I think it’s more modern. I mean Gretzky is obviously going to be there forever. My favourite player is Nik Lidstrom. I’m a big fan.

A fan gave me a signed puck of his, four years ago. It’s actually hung up in my room. Coolest thing I’ve ever gotten from somebody. A guy just walked over and said, “Hey, I know you’re a huge Lidstrom fan, you’ve done a lot of stuff” — I’d just done a charity event — “And I just want to say thanks and here you go.” I didn’t have anything to say. First time Nate Schmidt was ever speechless.

You’ve been given an elephant. You cannot give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant? — Eric S B.

I live close to the park so I would just let it roam in there. Then hopefully … Does it know who I am? If it knows who I am and listens to me, I can call it. It’s got plenty of space in there. It would cost a lot in feed, things they would eat. I might have to move … I don’t know if I could live in Winnipeg with an elephant outside. Can they survive the cold? I mean, it would be kind of cool to have an elephant. There are a lot of cool animals to have. An elephant would be pretty cool. Imagine just being like, “Hey, I’ll roll over on the elephant.”

(Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today)

https://theathletic.com/4070179/2023/01/09/jets-nate-schmidt-winnipeg-interview/ Jets’ Nate Schmidt on life in Winnipeg, happiness and fan interactions: Q&A

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