Doug Schmidt was one of THE Wheeling Nailers, and that was a pretty big deal, but initially his roster status worked against him here in the Friendly City.
The pretty blonde lady who was helping a disc jockey at River City Restaurant one evening in 1999 following a Nailers win was ignoring him despite his obvious interest. When Schmidt’s teammates decided to continue the evening at Generations Pub, he opted to remain at the downtown eatery to persist with his efforts to at least get her phone number.
And he did.
“She really wanted nothing to do with me,” he admitted. “I was a hockey player, and it was one of those things she was pretty much against. But I really liked her, and I didn’t give up. Even though she acted like I wasn’t even in the room, I did call her the next morning, and eventually I came down here every other weekend during the summers, and that was a five-hour drive. I guess I finally convinced her that I was worth her time, and we married in 2001.
“I just knew pretty much immediately that I wouldn’t be able to stand to be without her, and here we are today 16 years later. We motivate each other, and we help each other obtain our goals, and we’ve raised a great son in Adam,” he continued. “Now Adam, who’s 17 now, is getting ready to graduate from high school and then make the decision on his next step in his life.”
Schmidt was raised in Gross Ile, Michigan, the states’ most populated island that rests in the middle of the Detroit River, and only two sports proved popular during his childhood. He played baseball and he played hockey, and then came decision time when Schmidt reached his teenage years.
“It came to the point where my mom and dad sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “And, of course, playing hockey was the thing to do in Michigan so that was my decision. I stuck with hockey so I did as much as I could with the game.
“I was around 12 years old when I made it to the triple-A level, and that was the highest level of amateur hockey where I’m from, and I was on teams that won a couple of national championships. The first one was when I was 13 and the other took place when I was 17, so those experiences were really cool because of the opponents and the success we had against them,” Schmidt said. “And then I went to start playing junior hockey for Waterloo and living with a host family.”
Following a couple of seasons for the Black Hawks, he was offered a scholarship to play at Northern Michigan University, and after his sophomore year with the Red Devils, he entered the professional ranks for the South Carolina Sting Rays. The franchise, though, made a deal with Wheeling and sent Schmidt north to the Nailers.
“It was in the month of March when I was traded to Wheeling, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to get called up at that time because of how the Pittsburgh organization was at that time. They had one of best teams in the NHL at the time, and their AHL roster was packed with talent, too, so that meant for the players in Wheeling that there weren’t a lot of chances to get called up to the next level.
“During my second year in Wheeling, I did get called up to the Cleveland Lumberjacks in the old IHL, which is no longer a league,” he recalled. “Overall, though, it was a great career, and I had a lot of fun, and there’s not a day I don’t think about it because I think I could have been more successful. It’s not regret, but I can’t help but think that I could have done more if not for the concussion in Syracuse.”
It was an injury that haunted Schmidt during his career because of his style of aggressive play. As a defenseman, he hacked and whacked his way up the professional ladder beyond the Wheeling roster until, that is, one day in Syracuse.
“Unfortunately, I got run over pretty hard in Syracuse, and that injury ended up being career-ending. When I think about it, the way I was playing the game at that time, I guess I was asking for someone to take that kind of cheap shot on me, and that’s what happened,” he explained. “But playing that way, I felt, was the only way I believed I could make the next move in my career.
“I don’t have any regrets, though. It’s a great game, and I loved playing it, and it’s been a lot of fun to watch my son play here in Wheeling,” Schmidt said. “It takes a lot of talent and a lot of lucky breaks to get to the top in the game of hockey, and I was able to play for a pretty long time.”
The decision to retire was a difficult one for Schmidt. It was hockey after all, and it was his game that he had played since lacing up his skates the first time at the age of four. But he also realized he had the family he fought so hard to obtain.
“A lot of time in the game of hockey, when you suffer a career-ending injury you either move in with your mom and dad or your wife’s mom and dad,” Schmidt said. “So, I returned to Wheeling and to my wife and son and started living here. It was a no-brainer for me because of my love for them, and that’s when Becky continued working at River City, and she’s been there ever since.
“After I worked there, too, for about a year, I finally found what I was going to do for a living away from the game of hockey. I discovered the financial world, and I have been there since, and of course, we are now partners with Jason (Miller) with owning the River City business,” he said. “That’s why we are both excited to see the forward movement in the downtown area because that’s only going to help our business and we’re going to support the people who are making that progress take place.”
The Schmidts have remained Nailers fans since his retirement following the 2003 season, and with Wesbanco Arena a short walk from River City in the Wheeling Artisan Center, they enjoy welcoming the team’s fans before and after each of the 36 home games. Tomorrow’s 5:05 p.m. game against Cincinnati, though, is more special than usual, and that is because it is Doug who is featured on the front of the game-day ticket.
He was selected to the Nailers’ All-25th Season Team as one of eight defensemen, a group that includes Brock Woods, Tim Roberts, Mathew Maione, Paul Bissonnette, Terry Virtue, Peter Merth, and T.J. Reynolds. Schmidt, an eighth-round draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 1997, scored 15 goals and recorded 49 assists and 393 penalty-box minutes during his three seasons for Wheeling.
“I’ve been excited for the team’s 25th anniversary, and it is nice to be recognized after all of these years,” he said humbly. “The Nailers have been doing some pretty special things for the anniversary, so it’s been a lot of fun for the past players. And the fact that the fans selected me as one of the former players to be recognized means a lot to me.
“It was my son who brought it to my attention, and he wanted to come up with a way for me to get a lot of votes, but I told him that it was up to the media and the fans,” Schmidt added. “But in the end, I feel fortunate enough to be on that list of the past players, and I appreciate the fans for making that happen. I’m very honored, and I’m sure my wife will keep the ticket because it’s a very special honor.”
(Photos provided by the Schmidt family)