Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt has spent most of his life dreaming about tonight.
When the Colorado Avalanche visit the Caps tonight at Verizon Center [7 p.m., CSN], Schmidt will become the fourth Capitals player to make his NHL regular season debut this season, joining Tom Wilson, Connor Carrick and Michael Latta.
Recalled from the AHL Hershey Bears on Friday, Schmidt, 22, will replace John Erskine [upper body, day-to-day] and play on a third defense pairing with Steve Oleksy. Rookie Alex Urbom, who made his Caps debut on Thursday, will be bumped up to a fourth pairing with John Carlson.
“You just kind of gotta take it like another game,” said Schmidt, whose smile said otherwise. “If you let it get too big for you, you’re going to go into the game and become a very miniscule part of it.
“I think it’s just getting the jitters out. I think I got them all out this morning, at least I hope I did.”
A native of St. Cloud, Minn., Schmidt went undrafted and played three years for the University of Minnesota before signing a two-year contract with the Capitals last April.
He was assigned to the Bears and played the final eight games of the regular season and all five playoff games.
Schmidt scored a goal in his only game for the Bears this season.
“It’s his first game he’s very excited,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “I’m just going to tell him to relax and enjoy the moment. It can be overwhelming, we understand that.”
Schmidt received a phone call from the Capitals on Friday and immediately informed his parents, Tom and JoAnn, brother, Mike, and sister, Emily, of the good news.
All four family members will be attending tonight’s game. Schmidt’s parents and brother will be flying in from Minnesota and his sister, a medical student in Arizona, was able to get out of surgery to see her brother’s milestone game.
Olesky, who recorded an assist in his NHL debut with the Caps last March, said there are a lot of outside distractions players must deal with on the day of their first NHL games.
“There are a lot of people that share the excitement with you and they don’t really understand what you’re going through,” Oleksy said. “It’s nice to get the text messages and calls, but when you’re trying to focus it’s tough to deal with that.”
Oleksy will be playing with his third defense partner in three games. He’s also played with rookies Connor Carrick and Urbom. He said the assignment tonight is to make clean first passes against the speedy Avalanche.
“We want to keep it going north and keep it as simple as possible,” Oleksy said. “At the end of the day it’s still the same game. He’s proven he’s ready so we’re really excited for him and there’s no doubt he’s going to do well.”