CHICAGO – Add another rookie face to the locker room of the Chicago Blackhawks, only the latest one is already familiar with the Windy City.
Forward Ben Smith was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Monday afternoon to take the roster spot of star forward Patrick Sharp – who was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury that happened Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Smith was impressive in a call-up at the end of last season and even wound up scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 of a memorable first-round playoff loss to the Vancouver Canucks. He was thought to have an inside track on a roster spot to start this season in Chicago, but was injured in a pre-season game and sent back to Rockford to start out.
He was then recalled earlier this season and scored one goal in seven games before being sent back to Rockford once again to work more on his offensive game. Thanks to the Sharp injury, he’s back and hoping to make a good impression yet again.
“You always learn a little bit every time you’re up here, and for me maybe (I was) feeling a bit too much of the pressure (during the first call-up) and not taking it day by day, as I’ve done in the past,” Smith said. “You learn every time you’re here. I can learn from that experience, as I can learn from the experience last year. I’m just hoping for a good day.”
His approach to the game and practices, however, wasn’t the biggest issue that prompted Smith to be sent back to the minors this year. It was his patience with the puck, which Hawks coach Joel Quenneville and Chicago’s management wanted him to hone more.
“He’s always got a good attitude,” Quenneville said. “That’s what you’ve got to love about Benny. He’s a driven kid who wants to play up here and we saw what he’s capable of last year. He had a real good start to camp and a tough ending. Last time up here it looked like he was catching up to himself. We envisioned him to be here this year and I love watching him practice. He was flying out there (during Tuesday’s skate), so he’s excited about getting back here.”
He’s also breathing a little easier this time and keeping his focus more narrowly focused on playing his own style.
“Just try not to feel so much of the pressure and enjoy being here,” Smith said of his approach this time around. “I’m having fun every day and working hard – just doing what I do. That’s something I will try and do this time around.”