June 18, 2013

Game 3 a surprise homecoming for Chicago's Ben Smith

By Andrew Merritt

Ben Smith (Avon, Conn.) was a late addition to the Blackhawks' lineup for Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, but the former Boston College Eagle was treading on familiar territory at TD Garden. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

BOSTON – Ben Smith isn’t the most experienced player on the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster – not by a long shot, in fact, having played just 14 NHL games going into Monday night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

But by one measure, Smith had almost all of his veteran teammates beat.

Where Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks’ Game 3 starters have only played a handful of games at TD Garden (former Bruin Steve Montador was a scratch), Smith could count 15 games played on Causeway Street as a Boston College Eagle from 2007-10. That includes some pretty big contests, including three Hockey East finals (all victories) and three Beanpot finals (two wins).

So while the stage of Game 3 might have been an imposing one, it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to the Avon, Conn., native.

“I was fortunate in college to win a lot of championships here,” Smith said. “The triple-overtime [Hockey East final] against UNH my sophomore year, Benny Ferriero scored the winning goal. Winning some Beanpots, that’s always fun.”

Of course, there’s a big difference between playing for the Hockey East title – especially with five-time NCAA champion Boston College, where that’s rarely the end of the season – but for the young Blackhawk who made his 2013 playoff debut Monday night, the comforts of home were welcome.

“Being comfortable in the arena, in the locker room, having played here I think 15 times when I was in college, it always helps having a little familiarity, knowing the area,” Smith said.

It was especially helpful since Smith’s role in Game 3 only presented itself about 20 minutes before the opening faceoff. A member of the Chicago “Black Aces,” Smith was planning to work out with his fellow scratches during the first period, and then watch the rest of the game from outside the boards. But when Marian Hossa took a slap shot in warmups and immediately skated off the ice and out of the lineup, Smith suddenly found himself pulling on a game sweater for one of the biggest nights of the year.

“I didn’t really know what happened or what went on, I was just told after warmups that I was going in,” he said. “It was a rush to get ready at that point.”

It was such a rush that Smith, inserted on the Chicago third line with Dave Bolland and fellow Hockey East alum Patrick Sharp (Vermont), didn’t have time for much of a pregame briefing from the coaching staff. Asked what he told Smith going into the game, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was characteristically brief.

“Yeah, Benny, he can play both sides of the puck, brings a responsible game,” Quenneville said. “That's what we're looking for.”

Smith was such a late addition, in fact, that even though his mother, Marguerita, came up to Boston on Monday to have lunch with him, she was already back in Connecticut for the evening by the time her son found out he was playing.

“I’m not really sure who was in the crowd, I didn’t know what was going on, so I didn’t have people showing up,” he said. “It was a blast to be here, just obviously wish it was a win for the Hawks.”

Smith’s insertion into the lineup did raise some questions, especially after Quenneville confirmed that Hossa didn’t suffer the injury during the warmup – ostensibly, the mercurial winger was on the ice before the game to try out the “upper-body” malady. That meant there was a chance going in that Hossa would opt out of Game 3, and yet no extra skaters – not even Smith – took warmups just in case.

Hossa, Quenneville said, is day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Smith’s first game at TD Garden since the Eagles won the 2010 Hockey East championship wasn’t quite the rousing success that the overtime victory over Maine was on March 20, 2010. He was a minus-1 after arriving a little late to cover Boston’s Daniel Paille early in the second, allowing the Bruin winger to score the first Boston goal in a 2-0 Bruin victory. Otherwise, Smith mostly held his own, playing 13 shifts for a total of 10:23 on ice.

It remains to be seen if he’ll find himself back in the lineup for Wednesday’s Game 4. As he said after the game, after going from lifting the Lamoriello Trophy three springs ago to a surprise role in Chicago’s quest for the Cup, “you never know what’s going to happen.”

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com