Ben Smith wasn’t expecting the call he got last June, the last-minute one that put him into the lineup for Game 3 against the Boston Bruins when Marian Hossa was ruled out.
“It’s funny how things happen,” said Smith, who had played four seasons of hockey at Boston College, just a half hour outside of Boston. “You never know what to expect in hockey or life.”
There’s no doubt Smith still thinks of that playing opportunity in Boston, and will be again on Sunday when the Blackhawks host the Bruins for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup there. But unlike in June, Smith is no longer wondering if and when he’ll get into the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup. The 25-year-old has been part of a solid fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger, a trio that’s brought energy to the Blackhawks and a shutdown stance against the opposition.
“We’ve been together two and a half months now, so understand each other in different situations,” Smith said. “It’s just having that comfort in playing with the same guys. It’s a good situation for us and we like the challenge of being in certain situations against top lines or coming out right after power plays to get pace back into the game. We embrace it and it’s been nice to have that role so far.”
For Smith, getting any role with the Blackhawks has been the key. We’ve been through his past, when he scored big goals in the Blackhawks’ first-round series against Vancouver in 2011, only for him to be stymied by bad luck, injuries or both in trying to latch on in ensuing seasons. But the past is the past. He’s here now, and that’s what matters.
“My goal, as soon as I signed a contract here four years ago, was to be on this team and play a role and contribute to team wins. So that’s something I’m grateful for,” he said. “I know there’s a lot more hard work to do to get better at my role, to take more advantage of the opportunity and get more ice time.”
Smith, who grew up in Connecticut, will probably have plenty of family and friends watching tomorrow’s nationally televised game – “I’ll never get a chance to play the (Hartford) Whalers, but playing the Rangers and the Bruins, that’s always special.”
So was that one game he got to play last June. No, the Blackhawks didn’t win it, but they went on to win the ultimate prize. For Smith, who’s now firmly ensconced in this lineup, Game 3 wasn’t planned but it was nevertheless a pleasant personal surprise.
“That was just a moment I’ll never forget. It was special,” he said “Unfortunately we didn’t win that game, but because of (playing in that game) I was able to feel a bit more a part of what happened. That’s something I wouldn’t change.”