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Between The Dots: Smith's future looks big league

04/18/2011 3:51 PM - From Chicago (link):

VANCOUVER—Ben Smith stood by his locker Friday night wearing shorts with the Rockford IceHogs logo, a garment from his immediate past. The more he plays for the Blackhawks, however, the more probable it is that his future wardrobe will be strictly big league.

He looks like a keeper, and not just because he scored twice in this 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. It’s his attitude.

“Maybe sometime this summer, when I’m relaxing, I’ll look back at tonight and enjoy it,” said Smith, who’s built like a fire hydrant. “But right now is not the time. We need a win.”

Oh, do the defending Stanley Cup champions need a win. They are down 0-2 in the Western Conference quarterfinal that resumes Sunday night in the United Center, and if the Blackhawks’ stars don’t shine soon, the postseason might end quickly.

After being shutout in Game 1, the visitors finally cracked goalie Roberto Luongo’s spell when Smith tallied off a nice bull rush down the left wing by Bryan Bickell. That brought the Blackhawks to within 2-1 midway in the second period, and Smith again halved the Canucks’ lead in the third after Michael Frolik’s drive begat a juicy rebound.

Was Smith, via Boston College and No. 169 in the 2008 draft, collecting pucks to mark these historic personal occasions? Not a chance. He noted how he was on for three goals against, too, the most annoying being Vancouver’s third. Alexander Edler fired from afar and Smith, on one of his 22 shifts covering 13:18 of ice time, inadvertently deflected the puck with his stick past Corey Crawford. Only 14 seconds remained in the second period, a period during which the Canucks made it 2-0 on a power play in the first minute. Whether Edler’s shot would have sailed wide of its own volition was immaterial.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” said Smith. “I should have gotten my body involved there. Gotta sacrifice.”

Everywhere Smith plays, important people seem to take notice. They loved him in Rockford because he’s full of energy and desire. When he showed up in Chicago, coach Joel Quenneville saw a fiery sort who can navigate all three forward positions, exhibit good instinct, and show patience not always expressed by a rookie.

Smith, meanwhile, is thrilled to be with the Blackhawks, which is not to say he is just happy to be in the NHL. Big difference.

“There is pressure, of course, especially now in the playoffs,” he allowed. “But this is what you work your whole life for, to play in this type of pressure. You want to know if you belong. The guys on this team have made me feel I do. It’s really a great group. They’ve definitely helped me feel comfortable, and this is exciting, competing at this level. But we’re still down 2-0 in this series.”

The Blackhawks lost some of their depth during the summer because they had no choice. A hard salary cap shows no mercy. But organizations that draft and develop players better than most do not rest on their laurels or yield to financial constraints.

They just go looking for more talent, more youth, more keepers like Ben Smith.

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