“I’ve always admired the Stars organization and a lot of the Stars players like Mike Modano growing up,” Smith said. “So just being part of that organization I’m absolutely thrilled to see what happens in the future. I’ll just keep my hopes up.”
When the young Canadian-born forward got the chance to play college hockey after two seasons of junior hockey with St. Michael’s in his native Ontario, he jumped at the opportunity to play at Miami of Ohio, a program that has produced current NHL players like Dan Boyle of the Sharks, New Jersey’s Andy Greene and the Oilers’ Ryan Jones.
He knew that shifting his game to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) would be a big adjustment from the environment he had grown accustomed to, but it was a challenge he welcomed nonetheless.
“There was a lot of stuff I had to learn coming in from juniors in Toronto, where it was a very offensive game,” Smith said. “Coming here and playing for Miami, I’ve learned both sides of the ice. Take care of my own end first and then create opportunities from it.”
At least early on, that adjustment was a rough one.
“Definitely when I first got to Miami, it was a struggle. A whole different style of game really caught me by surprise. It was a lot faster and more defensive than I thought it was going to be,” Smith said. “But over the last two and a half years, I was really able to cope with the changes and really demand more of myself from the offensive aspect. Really just trying to find the open areas of the ice and be able to manipulate it.”
One early knock on him was that he needed to bulk up so his body could handle the rigors of the college game and over the last few years, he feels like he’s made considerable strides in that area.
“I’ve gained 25-30 pounds since I came into Miami. I hope to put on another 10 or so before I leave,” Smith said. “I’m focused on lower body strength, doing workouts like front squats to build my quad strength to increase my skating stamina.”
Stars Director of Player Personnel Les Jackson has been keeping an ever-watchful eye on Smith as well as all the other Stars prospects currently playing college hockey and likes what he has seen from the young forward thus far.
“Playing in Miami’s been a good spot for him. The coaching staff there has done a real good job with him and he’s emerging as a top college guy. I think he’s making great strides,” Jackson said. “It has given him a chance to mature and a chance to work out a little more than the junior guys do because of the scheduling. College has been good for him. He’s developed into a top player there. Some guys it’s different if they go to college. Some guys go and play major junior, but this has been a good step for Reilly.”
|photo by Jeff Sabo/Miami University |
As a freshman in 2009-10, he skated in all 44 games for the Redhawks. The young winger took a big step forward last season when he led the CCHA with 28 goals and was third on his team with 54 points (28-26-54).
One big plus associated with his first two seasons was the chance to play alongside Andy Miele, who won the 2011 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey. “Playing with Andy taught me a lot. It taught me a lot on the ice and off the ice. He had great work ethic on and off the ice,” Smith said. “He always tried to do better every day. There are a lot of little hints he gave me that I’ve really tried to implement into my game.”
He has clearly continued his progression this season as through 32 games, he was averaging a point per game (23-9-32) while sporting a robust plus-12 rating along with eight power play goals and seven game-winning goals. He’s also a candidate for the 2012 Hobey Baker Award.
“This year’s been pretty good. It’s had its ups and downs for sure,” Smith said. “Right now we’re still trying to really find out what our identity is and really push that on a day-to-day basis. Personally, it’s been a really good year. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my team and how much I can push myself and just some of my different abilities. Overall, it’s been a good experience here in the last year.”
One big difference this season has been that with Miele gone, he has now become the focal point of the Miami offense, which means stopping him is usually a focus of the opposition’s gameplan.
“Last year I was able to fly under the radar, so I didn’t have too much attention on me,” Smith said. “I knew that as soon as this season started that everything was going to change. That’s definitely something that I had to work on this year-working to find opportunities when being looked at by the other team on a consistent basis. But that’s what you want to be. You want to have that offensive threat, the other team knows you have that and you welcome that. It pushes your game a lot harder and makes you a lot more competitive to score goals even when you’re double teamed or whatever.”
To think, there was a time when he pondered exclusively pursuing a sport other than hockey. “I grew up playing hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the summer. It was kind of always split 50/50 and up until grade 11 or grade 12, I wasn’t sure really which route I was going to take,” he admitted. “Once I had an offer from Miami, it was a no brainer that the hockey route was the one I was going to take. Hockey’s pretty much been everything for me. I’ve followed it through my entire career. It opened a lot of doors for me.”
He’s not the only one in his family who played lacrosse. Brother Rory currently plays for the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). But he isn’t the only one currently playing at the professional level. Reilly’s other brother, Brenden, is currently with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL).
And since he and Brenden were closest in age, that was who he felt the strongest sibling rivalry with while growing up. “Brenden and I were always competing. I think our most heated games were always in basketball, which is funny to say just because we never really played against each other on ice,” Smith said. “Backyard basketball games got pretty intense. It was always last point wins but the game would never end until he got the last point. No matter how many times I scored, it was always his last point was going to win.”
However, it’s not just his brothers who have been his biggest fans as his hockey career has progressed. His parents continue to have an integral role in the success he’s had on the ice.
“I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done. I don’t even know how they brought me and my two brothers to our games all the time and all our practices,” Smith said. “It’s amazing my dad wasn’t fired for leaving early all the time and having to drive us. But my parents and my grandfather did a great job and they’ve always supported me. They’re here almost every weekend to watch my games and always on the phone if they’re not or watching it at home. It’s great support and it’s something that you need to have if you’re going to live away from home at a younger age and play hockey.”
Now that he’s about to complete his junior season, speculation has already started about whether he’ll play one more year or if he’ll turn pro after this season. Of course, he still has some time before he has to make that decision but don’t be surprised if he plays one more year for the Redhawks.
“My goal when I came in here was to play all four years,” Smith said. “I haven’t had to change that at all. Obviously my goal is to play pro and if the opportunity presents itself, then I’ll obviously think about it, but my main goal is to play all four years here and get my degree.”
Besides the great experiences he’s had on the ice, getting his degree would be a highlight of his time away from the pond.
“It’s really important,” Smith said. “It puts it on paper all the hard work that collegiate athletes put into their education and how hard it is to balance the lifestyle of daily school and playing high-level hockey.”
Expect the Stars to also offer their take about his course of action for the coming year.
“We’ll have discussions with him and assess at the end of the year where we’re at. But that’s something we’ll have to work out,” Jackson said. “He looks like he’s close to taking the next step. We’ll just have to discuss that with him and his family and see what the next step will be.”