The World Hockey Championship is upon us. The tournament begins on May 12. So last month, when Swiss national goalkeeping coach Thomas Bäumle received a call from Akira Schmid, he took the opportunity to inquire about his intentions for the tournament.
“He clearly wanted to represent Switzerland. But he was like, ‘It’s not clear, I don’t know where I’ll be yet,'” Bäumle said on the phone.
As of this writing, Schmid could very well have been at the heart of the American League playoffs. This is where the overwhelming majority of 22-year-old goalies play, especially those who, like him, were drafted in the 5th round.
Except Schmid not only makes the NHL playoffs, but he just helped the New Jersey Devils knock off the New York Rangers in the first round. Selected as the starter for Game 3, he had four wins in five games, posted a 1.38 GAA and .951 save percentage, and had two shutouts, including one in Game 7. Only this.
“Sometimes it goes fast!” continues Bäumle. He started the playoffs as a reserve, he had his chance and he took advantage of it. »
Schmid’s journey to get there has been a torturous one, to say the least.
The Swiss-German indeed intended to go through Canadian junior hockey to make his mark. In 2017, he landed in Lethbridge, in the Western League (WHL). But his beginnings were difficult and in his only game in the season, he allowed seven goals. The local Hurricanes freed him immediately.
“He hadn’t been very good in training camp either, and Akira had no middle ground. He was either very good or bad. »
The speaker has been the great beneficiary of the situation. It’s David Wilkie, head coach and general manager of the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. The same David Wilkie who once defended the blue line of the Canadian.
After being let go by Lethbridge, Schmid ended up in Corpus Christi, in the obscure North American Hockey League. This circuit has stores in Amarillo, Janesville and Minot, towns where Lyle Lanley may have tried to sell his monorail.
However, Coltan Wilkie, the son of David, also played for Corpus Christi. “My youngest calls me and says, ‘This keeper is really good, you have to recruit him.’ So I call the coach, I’m like, ‘I need this kid. »
Schmid therefore plays two games in Corpus Christi, before landing in Omaha, in the USHL. He played 37 games with the Lancers, averaging 2.18, while the club’s other seven (!) goaltenders that year averaged over 3.00.
“We didn’t have a good team,” Wilkie said. Despite everything, we played for .500 and it was mainly thanks to Akira. We couldn’t score, but we conceded few goals. »
Schmid concludes his USHL career with the 2020-21 League Goaltender of the Year.
In his first season with the pros, last year, he played 36 games in Utica, with the Devils subsidiary in the American League, and 6 games with the big club, taking advantage of the carnage in front of the net. The Devils indeed employ seven goalkeepers during this 2021-2022 season.
He got another recall in November when Mackenzie Blackwood suffered a knee injury. During this recall, the Devils play at the Bell Center on November 15. The colleague Emmanuel Favre is passing through town and takes the opportunity to interview Schmid for the Sport-Center agency, which serves several Swiss media.
“I came home with a fairly detailed portrait of him, but in the headlines, he was not really in tune with the times,” admits Favre. But if we open the Swiss press on Wednesday morning, it will make the front page of several media! »
He will do it because he has achieved an unusual feat. The last Devils goaltender to win all four games in a series? Martin Brodeur, in 2012. Before him? Sean Burke, in 1988. The stats say as much about Brodeur’s impact on this franchise as it does about the void left since his departure.
“It’s very good for us, the Swiss federation,” said Thomas Bäumle. He is a very young goaltender with great potential, who has been incredible in Madison Square Garden, one of the most difficult arenas for visitors to play. He deserves everything he deserves. »