As a 22-year old hockey player, Ben Smith has already felt the thrill of victory in the college level, and he hopes the thrills will only get bigger at the professional level.
Smith, the 169th overall pick (Round 6) by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is making his transition to the professional ranks slow and smooth, and he has experience on his side.
The Avon, Connecticut native spent four seasons at Boston College and during that time helped the Eagles win two National Championships. Smith was named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player during last spring’s championship run before joining the Rockford IceHogs for three playoff games.
Smith played his first professional game with the IceHogs in Game Two of the West Division Semifinals of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and it didn’t take him long to make his presence felt. Smith netted his first professional goal on April 21 in Game Three against the Texas Stars.
“I think to be in the Frozen Four, the pace of those games, the intensity is huge, and for me to go right from the Frozen Four to Rockford, it definitely helped me a lot,” Smith said.
Smith certainly knows he has his work cut out for him at the next level. The 5’-11” right winger has seen the differences between college and the professional level already. Smith is making adjustments to the way he plays the game to give himself a better shot at success.
“I think in college you only played 40 games so it was more run-and-gun,” Smith said. “In the pros it’s a little more reserved.”
It’s not just the style of play either that he says has changed.
“The guys are a lot bigger,” Smith said. “I think everyone was over six-foot, so that was different for me.”
Prospect Camp has been a big help for Smith’s move from the college game to the AHL and he hopes someday to the NHL. Smith has attended the Blackhawks’ prospect camp three years in a row, and he understands the benefits of being there.
“It has really helped just getting to know the coaching staff and the management,” the forward said on July 9 at the Blackhawks’ practice facility. “Just getting to know and see familiar faces in the Blackhawks organization.”
With the recent moves by the Hawks to get more young prospects, Smith knows he has to compete for a spot on the team, while still developing into the best player he can be. Smith only uses this challenge as motivation though.
“Well you’re always worried about your own development,” Smith said. “But you do watch and you do see the spots opening up, and it does push you to work a little harder.”
And hard work is the nature of Ben’s game. When asked what fans can expect out of him, Smith described himself as “a guy who’s solid in all three zones.”
“I’m not going to flash you with my speed or with my hands,” he remarked. “I’m just a guy who competes every day and tries to be solid in all areas of the game.”
Ultimately, Smith’s biggest help in his transition to the professional level will be his motivation. He is taking things step by step to get ready for what he hopes will be a long and successful career.
“My goals right now are really just to focus on the summer, and to focus on putting myself in the best spot for the fall,” Smith said at Prospect Camp, “I feel like if I do that for myself the rest will just take care of itself.
“That motivation to win, that’s what you play for,” he added. “And you play to win the Calder Cup or the Stanley Cup.”