BUFFALO, N.Y. — It was not a shocker.
St. Cloud State's Jimmy Schuldt was on the stage with Harvard's Adam Fox and Massachusetts' Cale Makar on Friday, April 12, at the HarborCenter. The trio of defensemen were the finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, which is given annually to the nation's top men's hockey player.
While Schuldt was the lone returning top-10 finalist, he was not surprised when Makar was named the winner of the award. Makar, the No. 4 overall draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2017, has led the Minutemen to their first NCAA Division I championship game.
Schuldt had a feeling he would not win, but did have a speech in his coat pocket "just in case."
"I think that Adam and I both knew that he's the guy," Schuldt said of Makar winning the honor. "He's been unbelievable all year. To have his team improve that much and be the fourth overall draft pick ... it's good for college hockey. You watch him play and he deserves it."
The season before Makar joined UMass, the Minutemen were 5-29-2. His freshman season, he had 21 points and the Minutemen went 17-20-2. This season, he led Hockey East in scoring and has 16 goals, 49 points and is a plus-33 in 40 games. Massachusetts (31-9-0) plays Minnesota Duluth (28-11-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at KeyBank Center for the national title.
"It's just an amazing time for the program and it's going to be fun," said Makar, UMass' first Hobey Baker winner.
Makar also talked about all three Hobey Baker finalists being defensemen. Makar is the second defenseman in three years (Will Butcher, Denver, 2017) to win the honor, fifth since 2000 and eighth defenseman overall to win the award, which has been given since 1981.
"The game is evolving," said Makar, the Hockey East Player of the Year. "These are two great individuals and players (in Fox and Schuldt) and I'm very honored to win this award. Honestly, those two guys could have very easily won this award as well. Three defensemen in the finalists is pretty cool to see."
Schuldt's pro debut
While Makar is likely days away from his pro debut, Schuldt made his NHL debut on April 6 for the Vegas Golden Knights in Los Angeles against the Kings. Schuldt, a 23-year-old from Minnetonka, Minn., admits that he had some nerves.
"It was funny because I was more nervous during the day than I was when the puck dropped," he said. "I was really fortunate that I played with (defensive partner) Deryk Engelland and he's such a quality presence. He's been around, not just the NHL, but pro hockey so long (since 2003) that he's so confident out there and so helpful, talking during the play and on the bench.
"Once I realized that this is hockey and I know how to play hockey, it was a little bit better. I kind of settled in and it was a lot of fun."
Schuldt was not on the ice for just a few shifts. He played a team-high 21 minutes, 3 seconds, had a blocked shot, spent a shift on the power play and had an assist.
"They were giving rests for their playoffs to a couple guys on their power play and I was able to take it out there with some really talented players and tried to snap the puck around," Schuldt said. "As different as college hockey is from the NHL, the power plays are pretty similar, actually.
"We weren't able to score on the power play, but it was cool just to be a part of that. Another thing that was cool was that it was a celebration of (Los Angeles') Anze Kopitar's 1,000th NHL game before the game. To see a player like that get honored like that and to be there was ... that's something you don't forget."
His first NHL point came on a pass to Valentin Zykov, who scored to cut Vegas' deficit to 4-2. The Kings went on to win, 5-2.
Among the friends and family who were in the stands for Schuldt's debut were all three of his brothers (Joe, 25, John, 22, and Jacob, 19). Jacob's journey to the game was interesting. He played defense this season for the Thief River Falls Norskies in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
The Norskies lost Game 5 of their playoff series in a road game to the Red Lake (Ontario) Miners on April 5. Then it was a race to get to Los Angeles that included ... a lot of travel.
"He bused down from Canada to Thief River Falls, drove himself to Fargo, flew from Fargo to Minneapolis and then flew from Minneapolis to Denver and from Denver to L.A. and got there with 12 minutes left in the first period," Schuldt said of Jacob. "I had some friends that came from back home and everyone got there different ways and that's what meant the most to me.
"To be able to share that with the people that mean the most was unbelievable. It's just kind of funny how it all worked out."
Family is typically a theme of every Hobey Baker Award ceremony. The fathers of the three finalists were each on stage and asked to share stories of their boys growing up.
Steve Schuldt was asked about how he flooded the backyard for a rink for the boys to skate on. Steve, a former St. Cloud State football player, said that they ran a hose through Jimmy's bedroom and out a window to flood the rink.
This will be a much different offseason for Schuldt and his parents. Last spring, Jimmy, an undrafted free agent, was deluged with offers from NHL teams. But he decided to return to St. Cloud State after many talks with his parents and a variety of people.
"We told him to consider all the options and think about it," said Sheri Schuldt, Jimmy's mother.
"JImmy's a real fact gatherer and he's got a real analytical mind," Steve said of his son, who is on schedule to graduate with a finance degree this spring. "But in the end, you've got to make decisions like that with your heart. He knew he wanted to come back, so that's what he did and it worked out great."
Schuldt had 10 goals, 35 points and was a plus-24 as the first three-year captain at St. Cloud State. He's also the first Huskies player to be named a top 10 Hobey Baker Award finalist twice, the first to be named a two-time AHCA All-America first team pick and the first to be named to the All-NCHC First Team twice.
Schuldt never missed a game in his college career and is the school's top scoring defenseman (118 points in 156 games). He was also named to the Senior CLASS Award All-America second team Friday. CLASS is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School.
2019 Award Winners
Hobey Baker Award (top player)
-- Cale Makar, Massachusetts
Mike Richter Award (top goalie) -- Cayden Primeau, Northeastern
Hockey Humanitarian Award -- Jake Bunz, Wisconsin
AHCA All-America Teams
East First Team
Cayden Primeau, Northeastern
Adam Fox, Harvard
Cale Makar, Massachusetts
Ryan Kuffner, Princeton
Nico Sturm, Clarkson
East Second Team
Andrew Shortridge, Quinnipiac
Jeremy Davies, Northeastern
Joseph Duszak, Mercyhurst
Blake Christensen, American International College
David Colton, Boston College
Josh Wilkins, Providence
West First Team
Hunter Shepard, Minnesota Duluth
Quinn Hughes, Michigan
Jimmy Schuldt, St. Cloud State
Taro Hirose, Michigan State
Patrick Newell, St. Cloud State
Rem Pitlick, Minnesota
West Second Team
Joey Daccord, Arizona State
Jack Ahcan, St. Cloud State
Bobby Nardella, Notre Dame
Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth
Mason Jobst, Ohio State
Blake Lizotte, St. Cloud State
Troy Loggins, Northern Michigan
Mick Hatten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MickHatten on Twitter, Instagram.