Smith, who had last suited up for Chicago on April 27 and hadn't played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game since April 26, 2011, skated with the team's extras Monday morning. Not expecting to play, he didn't dress for team warm-ups and was preparing to ride a stationary bike during the opening period.
That's when the announcement came that star forward Marian Hossa would be scratched due to an upper-body injury. And just like that, Smith got the call for Game 3, enjoying a return to TD Garden that was almost as glorious as it was unexpected.
"After we skated, you know you're not playing," Smith said. "My mom came up yesterday and I had a nice day with her. She went home. She wanted to get back. She didn't think I was going to play, so she headed back."
After enjoying a nice lunch with her son on Newbury Street in Boston, Smith's mother, Marguerita, got in the car to drive the 110 miles back to their home in Avon, Conn. It wasn't until she got home in time to watch the game that she noticed the text from her son, who after patiently waiting to get the call was suddenly given 10 minutes to get his gear on and get on the ice in time for the start of Game 3.
"That was crazy. He didn’t really have the typical game-day preparation. I don't even know if he had a nap or a decent meal," said forward Patrick Sharp, who started Game 3 skating alongside Smith and Dave Bolland. "He didn't even take warm-up, he just kind of showed up to the rink, put his skates on and jumped in to the Stanley Cup Final. For a guy that works as hard as Benny does to be rewarded like that, I thought he played great. It gave us a big lift to see him roll in here and put his gear on last night."
There couldn’t have been a better place than TD Garden for Smith to play in his first Cup Final game. In a prolific college career at Boston College, Smith won two national titles, two Beanpot tournaments and two Hockey East tournament titles. A number of those championship games were played at TD Garden, where Smith calculates he played about 15 games with the Eagles.
"That helped, just the familiarity with the building," Smith said. "It was fun. It was just one of those things. Here we go. You're going to try to bring your best effort and hope for the best."
Smith's return to Boston wasn't exactly triumphant, as Chicago lost 2-0 to fall behind 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, but it was a story he'll likely be telling for some time. He figures the last time he had to rush like that to get his gear on and jump out on the ice was when, as a 12-year-old in Connecticut, he was forced to race from a youth soccer game and change into his gear while his parents drove him to a hockey game.
The surreal night appropriately ended with a late text message from Boston College hockey coach Jerry York, the legendary bench boss who Smith still credits with helping him develop as a player and a person.
"He's a great guy. He sent me a text last night," Smith said. "Hopefully at some point here I'll be able to come back and say hi to him. He was all excited."
Hossa remains day-to-day heading into Game 4, so Smith has no word yet on whether he'll be back in the Blackhawks' lineup. If he is, he hopes to do a better job coordinating with his mother so that this time she can watch her son play on hockey's biggest stage.
"We talked about that," he said. "We'll have a better idea tomorrow."
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