If Ben Smith’s alert level wasn’t high before this season, it probably is now. When you’re waiting to find out which line you’re on, whether you’re centering or at wing, you have to be on your toes.
“That’s the thing with Q: you never know,” said Smith. “It’s being aware on the bench, paying attention and that’s big for us, making sure we don’t get caught on any line changes.”
If hockey had a designated utility player, Smith could probably fit the description. Much like Brandon Saad this season, Smith has played on the wings, at center, and has danced up and down the lines. For Smith, it’s usually been the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger or on the second line. By the end of Wednesday, he was centering Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. Not a bad gig.
“It’s tough to beat playing with those two, I think,” said Smith, who was driving the net when Kane scored the game-winning goal in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime victory on Wednesday. “It was fun there in the third and in overtime. They gave me some great opportunities there. Fortunately, Kaner came through there. We were just talking on the bench last night; we were having a good time. We were rolling, having the puck a lot. It was only a matter of time we thought it was going to happen and sure enough Kaner made it happen.”
Smith has given the Blackhawks options this postseason. He’s shared time at second-line center with Michal Handzus, who has been critical to the team’s penalty kill. The Kane-Smith-Sharp combo had their share of opportunities on Wednesday night; Smith, himself, had two or three great scoring chances.
Teammates aren’t surprised that Smith’s always ready for whatever comes his way.
“He’s ready to go, whatever role, whether he’s getting a lot of ice time or maybe not too much,” Jonathan Toews said. “He’s ready to play well and be effective any way he can when he’s on the ice, and I think that’s just his attitude and his work ethic. He’s another guy that we need to be playing well. He’s going out there and in any way, shape or form, he’s trying to be effective.”
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Coach Joel Quenneville loves versatility in all his players, so he appreciates what Smith brings.
“It’s a great asset to have as a player. Being a multi-tasker is a great tribute to certain guys,” he said. “You get more quality ice time and you have a longer career because you have more opportunities. He’s done a nice job.”
Smith’s definitely alert at all times, be it on ice wherever he’s slotted or on the bench, when he’s about to find out. It can get a little hectic. But he’s playing, he’s playing well, and he’s giving the Blackhawks options.
“It keeps me guessing a little bit on the bench,” Smith said. “I’m just trying to have some quick reminders for me before shifts, before faceoffs, ‘Hey, you’re playing right wing. This is your job.’ And then when I’m taking draws and playing center, I’m just trying to go through what I want to do on the shift and where I want to be. I’m just trying to give myself small mental reminders before going into a shift.”