PHILADELPHIA -- When the Chicago Blackhawks selected Nick Schmaltz with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, it was a dream come true for the North Dakota recruit.
"I couldn't be happier. I grew up a Blackhawks fan my whole life. To hear my name called was a true honor," said Schmaltz. "It's been a dream ever since day one. I'm at a loss for words right now."
Schmaltz said he had a good feeling that his dream might come true based on contact he had with the Blackhawks organization.
"I thought if I didn't go before 27 where the Hawks were, they'd take me for sure. Once the Blackhawks traded up, I thought I had a chance there," explained Schmaltz.
Schmaltz grew up in Madison, Wis., but played bantam and midget hockey with the Chicago Mission organization. "I grew up in Madison so that's kind of the closest team to Madison. I played for the Chicago Mission for five years, driving back and forth," he explained.
His parents were as dedicated to his hockey career as he was, traveling five hours total to get back and forth from his home in Madison to Chicago three times a week.
"Two times a week and one time for games on the weekends. It was two-and-a-half hours each way so five hours of driving a night. I couldn't thank my parents enough," said Schmaltz.
He grew up idolizing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. "Kane is my favorite player in the NHL. That guy is pretty fun to watch," explained Schmaltz.
He even celebrated with the Stanley Cup in 2010 when former Blackhawk and fellow Madison native Adam Burish brought the fabled trophy home.
"Burish is from Madison. We were pretty close with him. He brought the cup back," said Schmaltz, who laughed when denying that he touched the sacred trophy.
As big a fan of the Blackhawks as Schmaltz was growing up, it's not the only dream destination in his near future. The son and grandson of former North Dakota football players and the brother of junior-to-be UND defenseman Jordan, he has been set on wearing the green and black since he was a young child.
"I have a North Dakota poster. It's a painted North Dakota "Sioux" head on my wall," explained Schmaltz.
Schmaltz, a right-shot center, has excelled in international competitions for the United States as well as with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. He had five goals and three assists in five games last summer as the United States won the Gold Medal at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
The Blackhawks were so confident in his ability that the organization traded up to assure selecting Schmaltz. "It shows they're confident in me. I'm going to do my part and show them what I got here," said Schmaltz.
Schmaltz is a center with a creative offensive flare and tremendous vision, the type of player the Blackhawks could use moving to the future.
"Play-making center," said Schmaltz when asked of the type of player he is. "My game fits right into their style of play and I think it was the best fit for me too," added Schmaltz.
Schmaltz said his plan is to spend two or three years in Grand Forks before embarking on his pro career with the Blackhawks, but that he is open-minded to whatever the right path is.
"Hopefully two to three years at North Dakota, but if it takes four, I'll do it. Whatever it takes to get to the NHL," explained Schmaltz.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSports.