Starting to click: Smith and linemates starting to score
HOUGHTON — After 20- and 22-point seasons in his first two seasons with the Michigan Tech Huskies, junior center Alex Smith struggled out of the gates in 2018-19, picking up just one point in his first four games.
Since Nov. 2, things have started to turn in Smith’s favor. He has three goals and eight points. All three goals have come in the last three contests.
He scored two goals Saturday night. His first set off the offense as he scored on the Huskies’ first shot of the game just 2:44 in.
His second goal of the night came during an offensively-explosive second period in which the Huskies scored four straight goals.
While the recent success has been fun, it has not always been fun and games for the Edmonton, Alberta, native. It’s taken Smith three seasons to adapt the speed of the game and find ways to use it to his advantage.
“As a junior, this is my third year of college hockey,” he said. “I think you realize sometimes that you have more time sometimes then you might think. It’s just (about) taking that extra split second to make the right play, make a tape to tape pass. I think that’s something you adjust to over time the more you play in this league.”
Smith has helped contribute to the Huskies’ 7-0-1 WCHA record, which is good for the top spot in the standings. he could not be happier with how his season is shaping up.
“I think our season has gone really well so far,” said Smith. “We’ve played a couple of good teams to start the season out of conference. We didn’t get the results that we wanted in those games, but we played good hockey (that) set us up good for league play.
“We’ve pretty much done everything we wanted to do in WCHA play. (A) 7-0-1 (record) is a pretty good start. League points add up (so) it’s going to make a big difference at the end of the year when we’re battling for home ice and positioning in the standings.”
Looking back, Smith feels he has evolved as a hockey player since playing in his first career game. Head coach Joe Shawhan has shown tremendous confidence in the junior throughout his career.
“I think I’ve grown as a player,” Smith said. “I want to keep working on the defensive side of my game and (my) two-way play. I think the better you’ll play defensively, the more points you’ll get on the offensive side of the game, which is a big part of the game.”
Smith has seen a lot of playing time recently alongside freshmen wingers Brian Halonen and Alec Broetzman, both of whom have gotten off to strong starts for the Huskies.
“I think (by) capitalizing on opportunities, getting used to linemates (and) building some chemistry, (and) knowing where each other is will be big.
“On one of my goals there, Brian gave me a really nice pass in the slot. I didn’t have to do too much. It just comes from building chemistry with linemates.”
For Smith, good connections with his linemates helps wear the other team down. With a lot of time spent in the offensive zone, he and his linemates give the Huskies chances to score when they are on the ice. He also feels the other lines are starting to gel as well.
“We play four lines and all four lines are playing good together,” he said. “You have four lines, six defense (and) multiple goalies that have been playing good every night.
“It gives you a lots of confidence as a team when everybody on the team is playing good hockey. It wears down the other team and by the end of the game, they are tired out by how good we’re playing as a team.”
Smith likes the depth of the Huskies right now, even as the team continues to play without sophomore defenseman Mitch Meek and assistant captain Jake Jackson.
“Our team has a lot of depth this year,” Smith said. “We have a lot of good players. I think that might be a little different then other years.
“This year might be the best team we’ve ever had. We’ve got depth throughout the lineup. Different people contribute every night. I think that’s big going down the season. You want your top guys to be your top guys. Some nights they’re going to get shut down, and that’s when you want your depth to step up. We’ve had that this far.”