January 18, 2012

ECAC Hockey Journal: Colgate's Smith has the answers

By Dan Guttenplan

At last look, Colgate senior forward Austin Smith was leading the fan voting for the Hobey Baker Award.

Although the honor doesn't come close to clinching the award for Smith -- the fan vote accounts for only one percent of the overall balloting -- it does prove that college hockey fans have taken note of Smith's breakout season.

Smith leads the nation in goals (22), averaging a goal per game for the Raiders. He has already more than doubled his goal tally from last season (10), which was a struggle for both him and his Colgate teammates. This season, Smith has the Raiders (12-8-2 overall, 6-4-0 ECAC Hockey) in the hunt for an ECAC title. As recently as last week, Colgate was nationally ranked before falling to Princeton and Quinnipiac over the weekend.

Smith, who was drafted by his hometown Dallas Stars in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, recently shared his thoughts on the Hobey Baker Award with New England Hockey Journal.

Are you surprised to be leading the fan voting for the Hobey Baker?

”The school here is doing a good job of getting the word out. It helps that all the parents of players are voting. I guess people back home in Dallas found out and got online to vote."

How satisfying has this season been after the way you struggled with injuries last year?

"I had torn labrums in both hips. I knew that going into my junior year. I found out mid-summer, and I knew I couldn't get both done before the season. I picked one and decided to do the other one after the season. I probably came back too soon. I played with one torn labrum all season, and it was kind of a mess. I got through it, and it made me better for the experience."

Do you regret playing? Should you have red-shirted?

"No, I wish I would have figured it out sooner. If I had surgery right after my sophomore season, it would have healed before I came back for the preseason.  I came back in 12 or 13 weeks, and I needed 16 to 20. It was way too soon. I was at 70 percent. The big thing with hockey is confidence. I got off to a slow start, the team was struggling, and it all compounded."

When did you start to get your confidence back?

"I felt good at the end of last year, at least confidence-wise. After the second surgery, I felt 100 percent. We went to Europe over the summer and had a team-bonding experience. We played really well over there. We came back to school with a new spirit. The first game, I felt like the same player I was during my sophomore year. As the year has gone on, I've been exploring more of my potential."

Is winning the Hobey Baker a goal for you?

"Going into my freshman year, a Princeton assistant coach -- John Riley -- recruited me. He told me I'd win the Hobey Baker one day. I never had any serious thoughts of it until then. Now, with 22 goals, I'm kind of a contender. I know in the back of my mind, it's tough to win it from the ECAC. The last time an ECAC player won it was 1989. That's also the last time an ECAC team won the national title. If it's going to happen, it'll happen because we made it all the way through the tournament. Traditionally, the award goes to a player that takes his team to the final four or eight."

Is the fan vote important to you, or do you see it as only one percent of the ballot?

"I think it's cool that people care and pay attention to it. It's good for our league because the ECAC doesn't get much recognition. It's good for our team and our small school. For me, coming after a disappointing junior season, it shows that all of the hard work is paying off. If the team has a strong finish, I feel I'm a good contender for the award on nights when I'm playing well and executing. If we make a good push as a team, I like my chances."

Game of the Week

Union at Yale, Friday

Union (12-5-6 overall, 6-2-3 ECAC) would appear to be the clear favorite on paper on what has been a down year for the Elis (8-7-2 overall, 5-4-1 ECAC). But for whatever reason, the Elis have had the Dutchmen's number of late.

Yale beat Union in the ECAC tournament last season before posting a 4-0 victory at Schenectady this season. The Elis has also won the last two meetings at Ingalls Rink.

ECAC Hockey power rankings

1. Cornell (10-4-3, 7-1-2 ECAC): Fans of the Big Red will be throwing fish and newspapers on the ice Saturday when Cornell hosts Harvard.

2. Union (12-5-6, 6-2-3): After posting a 2-0 shutout against Harvard at Fenway Park Friday, sophomore goaltender Troy Grosenick is looking like a man who plays big on the biggest stages.

3. Quinnipiac (13-8-5, 5-4-4): The Bobcats have escaped a brutal early 2012 schedule with victories over Yale and Colgate, a tie at Brown, and a 3-2 loss to Cornell. Not bad.

4. Colgate (12-8-2, 6-4-0): The Raiders have lost four in a row, including ECAC losses to Quinnipiac and Princeton last weekend.

5. Yale (8-7-2, 5-4-1): Every time the Elis seem primed to turn their season around, they have a weekend like the last one when they collected one point in a set of road games at St. Lawrence and Clarkson.

6. Harvard (4-6-6, 3-4-4): The Crimson have not yet won a game in 2012. There are no easy wins this weekend with a road set at Colgate and Cornell.

7. Clarkson (10-10-5, 4-4-3): A couple of home games did Clarkson some good last weekend. The squad collected three points in a home set against Brown and Yale and pushed it to 7-2-1 at home this season.

8. Brown (7-7-3, 4-4-2): The Bears jumped from 11th place in the ECAC standings to eighth place after collecting three points last weekend with a tie against Clarkson and a win over St. Lawrence.

9. St. Lawrence (8-12-3, 4-6-1): The Saints had to be disappointed with their results last weekend, when they collected only one point in a home set with Yale and Brown after going 3-0-2 in their previous five games.

10. Dartmouth (7-7-2, 4-4-1): The Big Green have been outscored 11-2 in their last two games against Union and UNH. UNH took back the RiverStone Cup from Dartmouth, which won the trophy in 2010.

11. Princeton (6-10-5, 5-8-2): The Tigers had their best weekend of the year at home with a victory over Colgate and a tie against Cornell. Too bad the Tigers only have seven league games remaining.

12. RPI (4-17-1, 1-8-1): The Engineers need to clean up a few disciplinary issues. In a 5-1 loss to Union Saturday, they allowed four special teams goals. However, the teams each recorded 40 shots in the contest.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.