TRAVERSE CITY – As a student at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central High School, Connor Schmidt became acutely aware of Ferris State University hockey. The head coach and a school administrator had played there, and would regale Falcons players with tales of their college hockey experiences.
“Yeah, we heard all about Ferris from Coach (Jim) Baker and Mr. (Todd) Steinmentz, who was the dean of discipline at St. Mary,” Schmidt recalled. “But it got me following the program, thinking more about Ferris, and how it would be a great place to get to play and go to school.”
The feeling is apparently mutual, as Schmidt committed last week to pen his own collegiate lore at Ferris State. The Traverse City North Stars’ rookie defenseman joins fellow blueliner Zack Dorer as future Bulldogs, with a trio of Stars alums – Kyle Bonis, Andy Huff, and Garrett Thompson – already in Big Rapids.
“Connor is as big a competitor as you’re going to find,” said Traverse City head coach/GM Anthony Palumbo. “He has one speed, and that’s ‘go’. He’s an excellent skater, and has a lot of all-around skills. He’s a young player who has assumed a pretty healthy load already; On the power play, the penalty kill. He can do a lot of things and Ferris just got themselves another very good defenseman.”
Schmidt (5-10, 175 lbs.) has enjoyed a breakout rookie campaign in the North American Hockey League, scoring five goals and assisting on 11 others through 40 outings, and registering a team-best +17 plus-minus rating. He spurred a two-game sweep of Michigan back in November with a pair of goals and three assists. He had 16 goals and 23 helpers in 78 games with the storied Little Caesar’s midget majors in 2009-10.
“I guess I’ve been an offensive defenseman,” Schmidt assessed. “I’m not that big, but I try to provide a spark, whether it’s on a breakout, a hit, a fight, or whatever.”
Schmidt, who was drafted by Green Bay of the United States Hockey League, is still a junior at Traverse City Central High School and won’t enroll at FSU until the fall of 2012. In the mean time, he has a Robertson Cup playoff berth to chase.
“The college scholarship was really the only individual goal I had for the year,” he said. “Really, we have a solid season going and our focus is still to get to the postseason and make a deep run.”
Schmidt is the sixth current North Stars player to commit to a Div. I program, along with Dorer, Kelin Ainsworth (Lake Superior State), Tyler Marble (LSSU), Chris Dienes (Western Michigan), and Alec Shields (Mercyhurst). Alumni Doug Clifford (Niagara), Nilan Nagy (Holy Cross), and C.J. Motte (Ferris) have also committed this year. Traverse City is among the most confluent NCAA pipelines in the NAHL, with nearly 60 players committing to college programs in the team’s 5½-year history.
“That’s was our main priority when we got involved was to move kids on to college programs,” Palumbo said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to find some kids who have had college potential, and that’s helped us win a few games around here, too.”
Like most athletes who achieve elevated strata, Schmidt has enjoyed hearty backing on many fronts.
“I’ve had very supportive parents who have been there for me even in rough patches,” he explained. “They’ve helped keep me going. I’ve also had some great coaches along the way – Billy Ciraulo and Glen Murray with Little Caesar’s, Jim Baker at St. Mary, and Coach Palumbo, Coach Chad (Fournier), Coach Matteucci in Traverse City. The entire North Stars organization has been great – the Wieners, my housing family the Surgalskis – it’s been a good program and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to play junior hockey at that next level.”
Schmidt and the North Stars will face Port Huron this weekend in a home-and-home series; TC will host the Falcons on Friday at Centre ICE Arena before the scene shifts to McMorran Arena for Saturday’s finale.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)