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August 23, 2019

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Opposites attract: Schmidt, McNabb complement each other on the ice

Top defensive pairing thrives on playing against opponents’ top lines

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Steve Marcus

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt (88) and Brayden McNabb (3) celebrate after a goal by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare against the Washington Capitals at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.

The dichotomy that dictates the Golden Knights’ top defensive pairing is on display in the dressing room immediately after every practice at City National Arena.

The lockers of Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt are close by each other directly to the right of the entrance, but the scenes in front of them couldn’t be much different.

McNabb is typically huddled with one or two reporters, quietly answering questions. He’s always cordial, but rarely animated.

Schmidt, on the other hand, almost always commands an audience as he holds court with a scrum of reporters, cracks jokes and gives soundbites and quotes guaranteed to wind up in stories.

On the ice, the roles are flipped. McNabb is the one barking out orders while Schmidt stays “stone-faced.”

In all situations, McNabb and Schmidt are about as polar opposite of personalities as possible, and yet, they’ve somehow meshed to become the team’s best blue-line combo.

“It’s weird, he’s super calm when he’s got (the puck) but when he doesn’t he’s yelling and screaming on the bench, he’s all fired up and you see him in the locker room, he’s ho-hum, he doesn’t say much,” Schmidt said. “It’s cool we have that contrast with each other because off the ice I can’t shut up.”

The Golden Knights have tasked McNabb and Schmidt with shutting down opposing top lines ever since the latter returned from a 20-game suspension to start the season, and they’ve done so admirably.

They’ve matched up with the most productive lines in the NHL, like Nathan MacKinnon’s unit in the Dec. 27 game against the Avalanche, and then Sidney Crosby’s crew on Jan. 19 versus the Penguins.

Every night, it’s the same thing. McNabb and Schmidt hop over the boards when a team sends out their first unit.

It’s a right the two have earned, and one they relish.

“It’s a fun challenge,” McNabb said. “I’ve really grown into this role and really enjoy this role because it’s a personal challenge of mine, and Nate, I’m sure, feels the same way.”

The duo also play with contrasting styles, which has contributed to their success. Schmidt likes to join the rush, gets top power-play minutes and has 20 points in 37 games, the best per-game production of his career.

McNabb is a traditional, stay-at-home defenseman whose special-team expertise is on the penalty kill. He has just 13 points in 57 games, but no one on the team has more ice time than McNabb.

He’s the only player in the NHL in triple-digits in hits and at least 110 blocks, as he currently sits at 142 blocks and 112 hits through Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets.

“Most of the game you’re playing without the puck, no matter who you are,” McNabb said. “I’m not the fastest guy so being in position is a big thing for me.”

McNabb laughed when asked about his off-ice demeanor in contrast to Schmidt’s. They’re different people and different hockey players, but they make it work.

“It’s kind of funny, on the ice we kind of switch roles,” McNabb said. “I’m more loud and more talkative on the bench and in the room a little bit more than Nate."

“Off the ice, it’s a different story.”

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