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Hometown hockey player's dream comes to life

Kyle Schmidt, who scored the winning goal in Saturday's NCAA championship game, holds the trophy Sunday in Amsoil Arena. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

All little boys dream big.

Buoyed by their fertile imaginations, they travel to distant planets, conquer armies and win presidencies.

Little boys growing up in the hockey-crazed Twin Ports dream up lively sports fantasies on frozen ponds and local ice rinks. They visualize scoring game-winning goals to win state high school titles or national college championships as they snap shot after shot at the goal, providing their own play-by-play along the way: "He shoots, he scores!!!"

All little boys dream big, but precious few live out those dreams later in life.

Hermantown's Kyle Schmidt, 23, turned that iconic boyhood dream into reality Saturday night at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, scoring undoubtedly the biggest goal in the long history of Minnesota Duluth men's hockey -- an overtime gem that propelled the Bulldogs past the Michigan Wolverines 3-2 in overtime.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior winger boosted the Bulldogs to the apex of college hockey when junior center Travis Oleksuk passed the puck to him from behind the net. Schmidt then slipped it past Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick at 3:22 of overtime.

"It's something you dream about as a kid growing up, and then to have people come up to you and say that you just scored the biggest goal in UMD hockey history -- that's never going to sink in just because we have such a storied program," Schmidt said during the team's informal welcome home celebration at Amsoil Arena on Sunday night.

"To have something like that attached to your name obviously is a tremendous honor. I'm just glad that we're able to bring a championship up to Duluth."

Schmidt, who will turn 24 at the end of the month, is several years removed from his youth hockey days, but his celebration reverted to childhood euphoria like most men celebrating major sports achievements. After skating away from the scene of his historic goal, he slid across the ice on his back and punctuated the moment by making a snow angel.

"I had no idea what was going on, it just happened," he said. "That was just a whole bunch of excitement getting let out at once.

"To end my career like this is a fairy tale ending, and I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Schmidt's fairy tale ending was rehearsed over and over as a youth on Northland rinks, alongside peers envisioning some improbable day when they would be proclaimed a hometown hockey hero.

That day came Saturday for Schmidt, scoring a goal to give UMD its first NCAA men's hockey title and celebrating the moment by sliding on his back and trying to carve a snow angel into the ice.

Just like any little boy playing outside on a Twin Ports winter day.

Dreaming big.

Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317.

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