Matt Smaby can surprise you. On one hand, he attended the University of North Dakota in Fargo, not exactly your metropolitan university, and he never misses an opportunity to fish and enjoy the quiet of the plethora of lakes in Minnesota.
On the other hand, during the off-season he lives in a duplex in the heart of the bustling city of Minneapolis, loves gourmet cooking and circles the Lightning road trips to New York City on his schedule.
“I love New York City. I think it’s great,” Smaby said. “I really enjoy staying right in the middle of downtown and playing in Madison Square Garden.”
Contradiction? Not really. The 6-foot-5 defenseman is comfortable with all the elements he’s been exposed to, and at 24 he’s still taking it all in.
“It’s weird,” Smaby explained. “I grew up right in Minneapolis, which is a pretty big city, but the rural stuff surrounds it so I’ve experienced both and enjoy parts of each.”
This off-season, Smaby has stuck close to home, except for a brief stay at a northern Minnesota resort over the July 4 holiday and a quick trip out to Seattle to visit his brother Joe, a senior at the University of Washington. While visiting, Smaby got the grand tour of Seattle but the brothers didn’t bunk in together.
“Joe lives in a house with 10 guys so needless to say, I didn’t stay with him,” Smaby said. “But it’s a great town. Actually one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to.”
Back home, his daily workout begins promptly at 7 a.m. with Lightning Strength and Conditioning Coach Chuck Lobe, also an off-season resident of Minnesota. It’s not a one-on-one sort of workout because they are joined by a revolving crew of NHL players that also make their summer homes in Minnesota. On any given day, there will be 10 or 15 professional hockey players in the group, including Jason Blake of the Maple Leafs, Dustin Byfuglein of the Blackhawks, Tim Jackman of the Islanders and Mark Stuart of the Boston Bruins.
After the morning workout, the afternoon is reserved for skating. There, Smaby meets up with a different group of players, all alumni, as he is, of the local prep school hockey powerhouse, Shattuck-St. Mary’s. This bunch includes New Jersey Devils star Zach Parise, Drew Stafford from the Buffalo Sabres and Chris Porter of the St. Louis Blues.
“We have a three-on-three game going,” Smaby explained. “Plus, I’ve been working with a stick handling coach and I practice what we work on when I’m on the ice. My main focus this summer was to improve my hands and stick handling along with my overall strength.”
Smaby played several months toward the end of last season with an injured foot, and he has a surprise to let you in on about that injury: a bone in the foot was actually broken. Despite that, Smaby logged more than 25 minutes of ice time a game.
“I don’t know the exact medical term for what happened, but it got hit by a shot and it actually broke,” Smaby said. “Playing with it was just something, I think, any young guy would have done.”
The foot is now back to100%.
Away from the gym and the rink, Smaby has been doing some reading, mostly about his favorite hobby, fishing.
“There’s a lot of bass fishing, also northern pike and muskie around here,” Smaby said. “This summer I’ve caught a 40-inch northern pike and some pretty nice bass.”
In addition to the workouts and the fishing, one other item has been taking some of Smaby’s attention, and it’s pretty important. He is aiding in the planning a wedding for next summer with his fiancée, Jenna, who was his college sweetheart.
And, in one way, Jenna’s in luck, because she’s marrying a guy who enjoys cooking. In fact, he never misses the “Iron Chef” on television.
“I never miss that show and I do like to cook,” Smaby explained. “I wouldn’t say I’m a skilled chef yet, but I enjoy watching good cooks work and I’m working on it.”