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Smith's climb up the professional ranks no fluke

by Nate Haeni / Chicago Blackhawks

Every kid who plays hockey dreams of winning championships, playing in the National Hockey League and eventually winning the Stanley Cup. For Rockford IceHogs rookie winger Ben Smith, those dreams are coming closer to fruition.

In a span of sixth months, Smith accomplished two of those three goals by winning the NCAA Championship and getting called up to the Blackhawks at the end of October, the first full month of his first professional season.

Smith joined the college ranks after high school and started at Boston College in 2006-07, immediately chipping in as a freshman and was named the team’s Most Outstanding Freshman. His B.C. Eagles fell to Michigan State in the national championship game, but that was just the start of Smith’s career on college hockey’s biggest stage.

The Avon, Conn. native and the Eagles followed the next season with a national championship of their own in 2007-08 when they knocked off Notre Dame, 4-1, as Smith recorded a goal and two assists. The forward also earned all-tournament honors for his play in the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament.

The Blackhawks liked what they saw in Smith and selected the hard-working forward in the sixth round (169th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Though it was a thrill to hear his name called on draft day, it hasn’t always been easy for the now 22-year-old Smith. Following his junior campaign, he had to have surgery to repair nagging groin and hernia injuries.

“It was pretty tough playing the whole year through that and it wasn’t my best year,” says Smith, who finished that junior season with just 17 points in 37 games. “At the same time, you have to go through bad times to really enjoy the good times and it was definitely a learning experience for me.”

In April of 2009, as soon as the Eagles’ season was done, he elected to have surgery, with an eye toward his senior season. Smith worked hard and continued to rehab and by July he was back out on the ice in time for the Blackhawks’ prospect camp, and 100 percent healthy for his final collegiate season.

A four-year player at Boston College, Ben Smith scored the Eagles' championship-winning goal in the 2010 Frozen Four Tournament.
A fitting reward for his hard work, Smith and the Eagles won the 2010 NCAA National Championship to cap off his senior year. A picture-perfect ending for his B.C. career, the Eagles beat the Wisconsin Badgers 5-0 at Ford Field in front of 37,592 people and Smith was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, finishing with four points (3G. A), including the game-winning goal in the title game.

“It was pretty awesome to go out that way,” Smith says. “I couldn’t imagine ending my college career with a loss or a disappointing game. It really all came together for us there in the Frozen Four and it was pretty incredible.”

In all, the 5-11 forward played in 165 games in his four years at Boston College, which is tied for fifth on the school’s all-time list, finishing with 122 points (57G, 65A).

Smith excelled off the ice, as well, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history and minoring in economics and philosophy. Smith was also given the 2010 Eagle of the Year award as B.C.’s outstanding male student-athlete in his graduating class. He finished his collegiate career as a four-time All-Academic Team honoree.

After winning his second national championship, Smith joined the IceHogs for the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs. It was during Rockford’s playoff run that the Blackhawks saw what a smart, well-developed player Smith had grown into and offered him an entry-level deal.

“Ben’s a first-year pro, but he acts and conducts himself like he’s been around the pro game for 10 years,” says IceHogs Head Coach Bill Peters. “He’s a physically developed guy; he works hard on and off the ice and is committed to being a pro.”

Fulfilling his dream of playing pro hockey was amazing, but even Smith could not have predicted how soon his next step up would come. Barely a month into his first AHL season, Smith was rewarded again, this time stepping in for an injured Marian Hossa in Chicago.

“I was in the supermarket shopping for the weekend, when Bernie [Blackhawks G.M. of Minor League Affiliations Mark Bernard] called,” said Smith. “I started putting some of the groceries away and rushed to go grab my hockey bag from the MetroCentre. It was a pretty cool experience.”

Though Smith was held scoreless, seeing limited action in three NHL contests, he looked at it as another learning opportunity to continue to get better.

“I think you have to take each experience every day and learn and just try to improve,” Smith said.

With an outstanding work ethic and attitude, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his staff already view Smith as one of the smartest, most-dedicated players in the system.

“He’s kind of like a coach’s dream: he’s very low maintenance, you don’t have to motivate him, he follows your system and does exactly what he’s supposed to do,” says Bowman.

As Smith continues to build toward his ultimate goal, he recognizes that it has been a great start to his professional career.

“It’s been an amazing year; I’ve played a lot of big games in a lot of really cool venues -- Fenway Park and Ford Field,” Smith said. “If you just work hard and live the right way, things usually go your way.”

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