Chris Schutz to the Top
(Photo of Chris Schutz #29 courtesy of Aaron King, UMass-Lowell Athletics)
You wouldn’t think that turning down an offer to play in the NAHL is a great idea for a player whose dream is professional hockey. Chris Schutz felt that the Western States Hockey League was a better fit for his development and future—so he stayed.
“That was basically a guarantee for him that he was going to be on the team and play regular shifts,” Utah Outliers Head Coach Paul Taylor Said. “The North American League team really wanted him. I remember he walked into my office and said ‘hey, they really want me to come for the rest of the year.’ I was going to wish him best of luck and then he said, ‘But, I’m not going to take it. This is the best place [WSHL] I need to be to continue developing.’”
Paul Taylor started his head-coaching career with the Dallas Ice Jets in 2011 and eventually started coaching Schutz through the Ice Jets’ AAA program. It takes a lot of drive and determination to keep striving for the next level but it comes with no stroke of luck when a head coach says a player is ready for the next level earlier than anticipated.
(Photo of Paul Taylor, Nov. 16, 2012, taken by Mark Mauno)
“He had a lot of skill and was really competitive,” Coach Taylor said. “Watching his game progress from when he was younger, watching him as he got older, and just the drive he had—He loved to train and really bought into the development part of it.”
The forward out of Keller, Texas went into the chippy WSHL of 2013 where he found twine pretty regularly, and set up his line mates consistently. By the end of his campaign he had registered 42G-34A-76PTS in a 46-game regular season for the Dallas Ice Jets.
“When I played in the league the El Paso Rhinos were the best team,” Schutz said. “I think a couple games we lost by a pretty big margin. It was fun though because we were the clear underdog and it’s always fun to compete against the best.”
The Ice Jets were eliminated from the 2014 WSHL Playoffs after three games before—of course—the El Paso Rhinos hoisted Don Thorne’s Cup. Despite not winning the Thorne Cup, the Ice Jets had a winning season finishing 28-15-3 (W/L/OTL) with 210 GF and 123 GA. Schutz himself placed third overall in goals behind Martin Vachal and Filip Martinec of the Long Beach Bombers.
The training aspect of player development can sometimes be the make-it-or-break-it point for a player trying to supersede.
No, not just practice.
Not every individual grows up with the same guidance, awareness or even access to the tools that facilitate and improve specific parts of your game. An example of such diligence is working with trainers over the summer.
This is in essence gaining other perspectives about what you can do to improve the little things.
That’s how Schutz and Dallas Snipers Head Coach, Aaron Davis, established a relationship that’s still alive today—much like it is with Coach Taylor.
(Photo of Aaron Davis, Dec. 16, 2015, taken by Mark Mauno)
“The summer before I started with the Snipers I was talking to him a little bit,” Coach Davis said. “We got on the ice and I just started training him privately. He definitely had the tools and drive to want to get better and get to that next level. I gave him insight and worked on things he might struggle on or things that I might see. But, I knew he was good, fast and had a shot.”
It was certainly a two-way street in the sense that the summer sessions with Coach Davis couldn’t be successful without self-assessment and honesty to recognize that something needs to be worked on.
“After the seasons are over, he [Schutz] makes up a list of things that he wants to work on over the summer,” Coach Davis said. “You definitely knew he wanted to become a better player if you’re going to take the time to focus on the bad parts of your game.”
Coach Davis didn’t think Schutz made a mistake either when he declined to play full-time for the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the NAHL.
“He showed tremendous maturity in knowing what he wanted,” Coach Taylor said. “He told me ‘I just need to keep training; I need to make sure I arrive at the right time.’ ‘When I’m ready to play at that next level I don’t want to just be a random player I want to come in and really dominate.’”
Schutz’s path never did take him to the NAHL. Instead, he took the BCHL route. If it’s one thing that both Coach Taylor and Davis agree on, it’s the confidence instilled in him. He cemented it into certainty during his first year with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs as the third leading scorer (25G-22A-47PTS) and team highs with six GWGs and 13 PPGs.
The Bulldogs’ coaching staff awarded Schutz the “A” in his sophomore season only to see him answer the bell with a team leading 34G-20A-54PTS and again leading the special teams with 16PPG—third in the entire BCHL.
“‘You came from Texas? Who are you? What league did you play for?’ Everybody in Canada was dumbfounded that this kid just walked in and not only made the team but was one of their best players from day one,” Coach Taylor said.
“Looking back on it, it doesn’t really matter where you end up playing. If you have the talent, someone is going to find you wherever you’re at,” Coach Davis said.
And, Robert Morris University (NCAA D-I) found him.
Schutz committed to play Division-I college hockey but was nursing an injury and didn’t get the chance to play with the Colonials his entire first semester. Again, Schutz looked at the developmental aspect of his game and assessed that his future would be better suited elsewhere.
“I actually didn’t even get to practice with the team pretty much the entire semester,” Schutz said. “My ankle was not getting any better but while I was there I was thinking—with all due respect to them—I still want to take my game to the next level. I felt I wasn’t going to develop there as well as I would somewhere else.”
Schutz made his college hockey debut on Dec. 29, 2017 versus Harvard as he wore the UMass-Lowell River Hawks jersey. He didn’t wait long for his first collegiate goal scoring versus rivals Massachusetts (2019 Frozen Four Runner-Up) on Jan. 6, 2018.
(2:15 Schutz Scores)
The very next game, versus Arizona State, Schutz scored his second collegiate goal. He had a game-winner versus Boston College on Jan. 26, 2018—and ended his freshman year with 4-points.
(Photo from GoRiverHawks.com)
Last season, Schutz doubled his point production including a goal versus Rensselaer and one against Boston University. His most recent goal also came as a game winner, and again versus Massachusetts on Feb. 9 (See featured highlight below).
To culminate everything, UMass-Lowell owned a 6-1-0 record when Schutz scored a point. Similarly, they had a 3-1-0 record when Schutz scored a point in the game in his freshman year.
(Schutz opening goal)
“The nerves were going a little bit, but, I was just mainly thinking let’s win,” Schutz said. “Usually when you have that team first mindset the rest takes care of itself. I had told myself in my head a thousand times, ‘just keep your feet moving and make the right play,’ and I stuck to it.”
UMass-Lowell fell 2-1 to BU in the Hockey East Quarterfinals series this past season.
With six NCAA D-I goals, Schutz is at the top of the list regarding WSHL alumni playing D-I college hockey. Matus Spodniak of the Ogden Mustangs scored his first collegiate goal versus Army in the Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinals on March 16. Ryan Orgel, former Long Beach Bomber, plays for Denver University. They all hold a special distinction:
Schutz has the most goals and games played
Spodniak is the only ever to make a direct jump from the WSHL to NCAA D-I.
Orgel was the first to debut on Dec. 2, 2017.
Of note, both Schutz and Spodniak scored their first goal in their fourth game. Schutz received the NAHL offer from the same team that Orgel played for in 2016, Wichita Falls Wildcats.
“It’s cliché, but never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. When I was playing in the Western States, there were certain teams that looked down on me because of where I came from or they weren’t able to scout me,” Schutz said. “As long as you don’t care what anyone thinks, you know what you want and continually work on your skill set, go along for the ride. Don’t overthink things and let things fall into place.”
Schutz will likely begin his annual summer training with Coach Davis in the ensuing weeks when he heads back to the Lone Star State.