—The Rockford IceHogs are proud to announce that Ben Smith
has been named the team’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the Rockford community during the 2011-12 season.
In his second full season of professional hockey, Smith has been a staple in the Rockford community, despite battling injuries and recalls between Rockford and the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Avon, Conn., native participated in several community team functions, including family reading nights at local elementary schools and libraries, hospital visits, the IceHogs adopt-a-school program at Lincoln Middle School and a reading program at Hillman Elementary School in Rockford.
Smith’s efforts in the community made the most impact when he befriended 19-year-old Jimmy Newcomer. Newcomer was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer (in his bile ducts) in early December, and by the turn of the calendar year, he was given just a few weeks to live.
After Rockford’s game on Monday, Jan. 16, Smith paid a visit to Newcomer at Swedish American Hospital in Rockford and delivered one of his game-worn jerseys. During his visit with the 19-year-old, Smith found out that Newcomer was supposed to attend his first Blackhawks game on Jan. 18 but couldn’t go because of his deteriorating condition. Smith volunteered his time and said he’d spend that Wednesday night watching the game with him by his bedside.
As life would have it for an AHL player, Smith was recalled to Chicago the next day and couldn’t make the visit. Smith, however, helped organize a team outing that included six of his IceHogs teammates at the hospital and surprised Newcomer with a Blackhawks watch party with the players, family and friends.
The winger later participated in a fundraiser with several IceHogs teammates at Texas Roadhouse (Newcomer’s former employer) in Rockford where he spent nearly six hours at the event which raised over $10,000 for Newcomer’s medical expenses. Newcomer eventually found enough strength to attend an IceHogs game courtesy of Smith.
The second-year winger was a hopeful to make the Chicago Blackhawks roster out of training camp last fall, but a concussion in the Blackhawks final preseason game sidelined him to start the season and eventually landed him in Rockford. After a productive campaign in Rockford and nine games in Chicago with the Blackhawks, Smith was shut down for the season because of a torn hip labrum and hernia.
Despite his own personal and professional adversity, including injury and the back-and-forth shuffle between Rockford and Chicago, Smith is always one of the first to volunteer for hospital visits, school appearances or meet-and-greets with fans.
Smith is now one of 30 finalists for the AHL’s 2011-12 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, honoring the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. The league award is named after the former Hershey Bears forward and AHL All-Star who died in 1997 following a 16-month battle with leukemia. The winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award will be announced by the American Hockey League in the coming weeks.