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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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At first, Nate Schmidt was disappointed when Las Vegas wasn't named a hub city in the National Hockey League’s return-to-play plan. 

"Vegas is such a great place and we had such a great package that you could deliver here," the Golden Knights defenceman said. "I wish I could've been there to say, 'Come on! It's awesome! See what we have here?!’ It's something you want for the city, but from our perspective, in the hockey sense, it's almost easier to go away.

"Now, we don't have the comforts of home five minutes away or the grocery store where you know you could go and they have your favourite piece of fish or whatever. So, at home all those luxuries you have are at your fingertips, but in the bubble you can't quite reach it." 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has acknowledged that a key reason why Vegas didn't get the call to host the resumption of play for Western Conference teams was because the number of positive tests in the Las Vegas area is trending up. And that's something Schmidt and his teammates spoke about on the eve of training camp. They see what happened in Major League Soccer, with two teams being forced to leave the MLS is Back tournament due to outbreaks, as a cautionary tale.   

"You put all the work in and all the sudden you get get shutdown," Schmidt said. "So, we talked about how important it is to have this sacrifice for the next 14 days ... it's like, 'We've come so far, guys. I know it's not the most ideal situation, but we get to go back and play and do the thing we love doing." 

The chance to reunite as a full group on Monday for the first time in four months was a reminder of why they're willing to go through all the testing and protocols for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. Even just playing an inter-squad scrimmage provided a morale boost. 

"You go through the whole quarantine, you're working out and maybe doing small group stuff, and you don't really realize how much you miss the game until you step out onto the ice and get to play again and then you're like, 'I can’t believe I haven't been doing this for four months.' So, that puts it back in perspective and you know you can really handle these next two weeks."

Schmidt spoke to TSN via Zoom on Monday night and offered insight on what the games may look like when play resumes for real in August. The 28-year-old from Minnesota also explained why teammate Mark Stone pissed him off on Day 1 of Knights camp. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

So, what was it like getting the gang back together? 

"You know what, it was pretty fantastic. We've had most of our guys here in town so it was really crisp. We've been itching to get at it. It was great. There was a lot of yapping back and forth between the two teams in our scrimmage at the start and that type of camaraderie is what we've missed and what I've missed. I got out there with [Jonathan] Marchessault to start the day and I was betting him that he wasn’t going to score against me today and it’s that kind of stuff that brings it back and makes days like to​day fun."

Anyone impress you and come out of the break looking really good?

"Mark Stone already stands out but, I mean, today it just seems like he doesn't miss a beat. He's just one of those guys. It pisses me off actually, because he can just go out, pick up a stick, and be good again (smiles). He was on my team today so I was super happy and was on the winning end of that."

Considering you guys went through a coaching change mid-season, how valuable will this training camp be under new bench boss Peter DeBoer? 

"We talked a little about that today and it's no longer doing it on the fly. We were kind of doing things on the fly after the coaching change and trying to change up a few things and make a few tweaks to our system and now we get more of a chance to be all together, take some days, go through it all. We were getting to that point near the stoppage so our guys can build on that and now we have some extra time ... it's going to be a huge advantage for us to have that extra time with him." 

You guys went on an 11-2-0 run before the pause. What makes you confident you can pick up where you left off?

"I like our team make-up. We got two elite goaltenders and guys that can score. Our top nine forwards, I think you can go out and put them up against anybody. Our D with Alec Martinez coming in, he has been a calming presence, a guy with a lot of experience, who's helped Shea Theodore, who’s been our catalyst on the back end this year, propelling him to new heights. Now, we still got to go through the champs. We got to go through a team like Colorado. And all the teams in the Pacific always find a way to make the series hard against each other. Hopefully we'll see the Battle of Alberta, just as a fan I want to see it. So, the Pacific is always hard and, like I said, the road goes through St. Louis. But I like our group and the way our team has been. We’ve been here throughout the entire quarantine and guys have been training a lot and we're in a good place right now." 

What do you think the hockey will be like when things get going in August? Will it be loose and high scoring like in October or crazy intense with everyone so well rested? 

"Man, rest is a real thing in hockey. You play 82 games plus playoffs usually, but now you get a break ... if our scrimmage today is any indication it’s going to be the highest-paced games of all-time (laughs). I mean, guys were flying left and right and I remember getting off the ice from my first shift and one of the other defencemen, Jake Bishoff who plays for our AHL team, he was like, 'That’s the fastest hockey shift I've ever seen,' and guys were buzzing left and right. So, if that's any indication, I would tell you right now it's going to be pretty quick."

What level of intensity are you expecting in the seeding games against Colorado, St. Louis and Dallas? 

“It's a good question. I've thought about this a few times. I'm kind of on the fence. I think it will be a little more of that first-game feel or maybe feel like the last pre-season game where you got most of the team playing and guys are going hard because they want to ramp up, they want to be able to hit that first game of the year in stride, but not at risk. If Colton Parayko is lining up for a one-timer, am I really going to step into it in a seeding game? You know, yeah, competitive juices say yes, but also at that point I just got to make sure I'm OK. Those games are important, because last change is important so I think once guys get in it and all the sudden, you know, mouths start yapping or a d-man gets walked or something like that, it’ll pick up. You know, all the sudden everyone is hooting and hollering and you'll be able to hear everybody. Those guys will be talking on the bench and it's not like we have to yell over the speakers. I can talk at this volume and speak to the goalie on the other team so it's going to be interesting. I'm going to have to go to the dictionary for some new words when I get there. I'm not good with my chirps. I may have to sit down with Reavo [Ryan Reaves] one of these days." 

How do you feel about your game this season and now going into the playoffs? 

"Getting hurt in the first game of the year is never what you want to do so it took me a bit longer than I liked to get going. We were up and down and I wanted to be back. I had just gone through not being with the team at the start of the year prior so it was hard for me. I got myself in a position where I was down about it and was like, 'Man, I missed another first part of the year,' and this one is harder because you don'​t know when you’re going to back. As the year went along I started to play a little better and our whole group started to play better. How we were playing as a group morphed my game. Myself and Shea, Brayden [McNabb] and Alec Martinez, we all started trending up together and that’s good, but we have to start that way. So, for me, I feel great, my body feels great, we got rest, I feel fantastic. I mean, today, I didn’t know if I wanted to get off the ice a few times in the scrimmage. My legs and lungs felt great. Training when it’s 110 degrees outside is not the most fun thing in the world but it’s good for your lungs."