Like many aspiring hockey players, Austin Smith would like nothing more than to take the ice for the NHL team he grew up watching as a youngster.
While it’s not unusual for kids in cities such as Toronto, Montreal or even Boston to put on the sweater of their hometown team, Smith would be the first Dallas-born player to play for the Stars.
"I would have been happy to go anywhere, but to go to a home place, where you grew up and played your youth hockey, is pretty exciting."
-- Austin Smith
“I would have been happy to go anywhere, but to go to a home place, where you grew up and played your youth hockey, is pretty exciting,” he said. “I watched them win the Stanley Cup when I was growing up, and they were always my favorite team. It’s something to work for in the future.”
Smith was 10 when the Stars won their lone Stanley Cup by beating Buffalo. It’s a night he’ll never forget.
“I was pretty young, but I definitely remember all the celebrations going on,” he said. “I remember Game 6 and how it played out in overtime -- I remember it all. Jamie Langenbrunner was my favorite player. He played gritty, tough, and he could score. As a player, I model myself after him and (Brenden) Morrow.”
Smith, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound speedster, has shown he can score.
After his big year in prep school, he signed with Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League, a Tier II Junior A league, a move that allowed him to keep his college eligibility. Smith put up 32 goals and 67 points in 62 regular-season games, then had 11 goals and 22 points while being named MVP of the playoffs and helping the Vees win their first league championship in 22 years.
“Playing in different places makes you realize there are different ways to do things -- you get exposed to different things and different coaches,” he said. “I had already gone out there and met some of the guys, so I felt right at home. From there, we had an unbelievable year and a great playoff run.”
Smith will be on the move again in the fall. After taking part in the Stars’ development camp for the second year in a row, he’s heading to Colgate University in upstate New York in the fall.
“I looked at a lot of schools, and Colgate had the right environment,” Smith said. “I really liked the campus. When I was choosing, school was a big part of it. Now the hockey is bigger, but academics are still important. It’s a good school. It combines both, and the hockey team is usually pretty good. It will be a good experience. The school is only about 3,000 people. It will be a fun place to play.”
Changing teams for the fourth consecutive year won’t be easy, but Smith says the toughest move came when he left home to go to prep school.
“The first year I went away was pretty tough,” he said. “When I went away to Connecticut, the first month was a very new experience. I didn’t know anyone. Obviously, when you go into a new environment, it’s kind of a rough start until you get to know people.
“In prep school, you don’t start playing hockey until November, so that was two months of mostly working out and getting to know people. It would have made it a little easier transition if hockey had started right away. It was a little different in that respect.”
To Smith, the time at development camp has been invaluable in learning what he needs to do to realize his dream of becoming the first Dallas native to dress for an NHL game with the Stars.
“Every day, especially here at camp, you see the level that everyone’s at, what you’ve got to work toward,” he said. “It will be a long road, going the college route, but (getting to the NHL) is definitely more tangible each year. College is the best thing for me. I’ll get more of a chance to develop.”
If he makes it, Smith will be the first fruit of the Stars’ efforts to build a young hockey base in the Dallas area.
“When I first started, there were only a couple of rinks,” he said. “Now there are probably 12-15 in the area, and it’s growing every year. There are better players coming out, and there will be more, for sure. It’s definitely growing in that regard.”
Contract John Kreiser at email@example.com