Defenseman-Turned-Forward Leads Ferris State to National Title Game
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
TAMPA, Fla. As the waning seconds of Thursday's first national semifinal at the Frozen Four ticked away, senior Aaron Schmit — an imposing 6-foot-4, 229 pound defenseman-turned-forward — skated in alone on an empty net.
And he kept skating — to make sure there was no mistake. The empty-net goal was Schmit's second of the game and eighth of the season. And with it, Ferris State is headed to Saturday's national championship game, the first in program history, after a 3-1 win over Union.
"Don't miss," said Schmit, laughing, of his mindset before his empty-netter. "You see it on SportsCenter all the time when people with empty netter miss. I skated it in as far as I could to make sure I wasn't missing it."
"He's a big body," added Bulldogs head coach Bob Daniels. "He's strong on pucks. Really, his game is the four feet in front of the net, from the top of the circles down. That's what he does for us. If he scores a goal for us anywhere behind the circles, that's good. So even when he was in on the breakaway, I'm saying 'take it close.'"
Schmit's two-goal performance may be even more impressive considering the fact that the right-winger once manned the Ferris State blue line. Schmit played as a defenseman for his first two seasons, before Daniels decided to move him to offense.
"He was really good physically," said Daniels of his thought process. "But, at times, he struggled breaking the pucks out. Yet he was big and strong. It was hard to take the puck from him. So we thought if we moved him up front and used that same size and strength down low in the offensive zone, and the fact that we thought were a little bit light, if you will, undersized at forward, we felt we could use a little bit more of a physical presence up front."
The change was made prior to a road trip to Alabama-Huntsville, kicking off the 2010-11 season — Schmit's junior year. Prior to that point, he had never played a game as a forward.
Recalled Schmit, "We were going down to UAH, and one of the other guys had to leave early from practice. Coach threw me up there for practice. I come back the next day, and I'm a forward. And I've been stuck until now. Haven't played a lick of defense since then."
Except, of course, his perspective as a former defenseman has helped him approach his new role as a forward.
"You know what the defenseman feels like, and you know what their mindset is, what they're going to do," said Schmit. "To make it easier on them, I know where to be to help them out."
In fact, Schmit's positioning has been a noteworthy component of his game all season, providing a big body in front of the net, to take away the eyes of opposing goaltenders. In Thursday's national semifinal at the NCAA Frozen Four, Schmit scored the Bulldogs' first goal of the game by clearing space in front of Union goaltender Troy Grosenick. That space allowed junior forward Kyle Bonis to skate to the net from Grosenick's left, throwing the puck in front, where Schmit knocked in the rebound.
Said Schmit of the play, which at the time tied the game at 1-1, "We work on that in practice because they put Kyle in the corner on the power play, to come out and make a move, and then I'm there to jam home a rebound. And it worked."
Added Bonis, who scored the game-winner for the Bulldogs late in the third period, "He plays his role incredibly well. For a big guy, he's got some good touch around the net. He commands so much respect because he takes up so much space. He doesn't lose too many stick battles for pucks — little things like that, he's got the intangibles."
Schmit plays on a line with junior Eric Alexander and sophomore Cory Kane. The trio represent the only forward line at this year's Frozen Four on which each player weighs more than 200 pounds.
"We're all big bodies," said Schmit. "We wear down those (opposing) defensemen, they're going to be more tired, and that gives our skill guys more chances."
In the end, Schmit enjoyed his first multi-point game of his career — his 120th in the Ferris State uniform.
And thanks to his two goals — and with no mistake on the late empty-net goal — a 121st and final game awaits on Saturday night.