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Derek A. Smith steps into veteran's role
Dec. 1, 2006
By LINDA L. BOUVET, LSSU Sports Information Director
As the Lake Superior State hockey team has re-invented itself during the last half decade or so, one constant during the recent era has been the Lakers' solid defense.
This season, senior Barnabas Birkeland and junior Derek A. Smith are the veterans for a defensive squad that regularly includes three freshmen and a sophomore. And they haven't missed a beat! LSSU is currently ranked 11th nationally in goals-against, allowing a mere 2.36 goals per game.
"I give a lot of credit to the freshmen," said Birkeland, the Lakers' captain. "The freshmen aren't really freshmen. I just call them the `young guys.' They are really poised with the puck."
Birkeland also credits Smith for assuming more responsibility this season. He's playing more like a senior than an underclassman.
"I'm just maturing as a person and a player, and things are coming a little bit easier for me now," Smith said. "I have such a great group of guys around me. That makes everything a little bit easier."
With Central Collegiate Hockey Association First-Team goaltender Jeff Jakaitis between the pipes, LSSU expected to be decent defensively. No one could have predicted, however, the offensive contributions that Laker defensemen are making this season. Smith leads the Lakers in assists and is among the top three in points. Five defensemen have contributed three or more assists through 14 games this season.
Smith already has a pile of season highlights, including three assists in a 5-1 victory at Clarkson on Oct. 21, setting up Matt Martello's game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Miami on Nov. 10, and scoring the second of two short-handed goals during the same Wayne State power play on Nov. 17. Smith notched a goal and an assist in last Friday's 2-2 tie at Alaska.
Smith, a 6-2, 198-pounder from Belleville, Ont., is currently ranked sixth in the CCHA and 17th nationally in points per game by defensemen. He has two goals and 10 assists, and has already surpassed last season's 36-game point total of 2-8--10.
Birkeland isn't that surprised. He said that few rival Smith in passion for hockey.
"He loves the game so much," Birkeland said. "He lives and breathes it. In the off-season, he's so committed to being in the weightroom and getting better. And if the Maple Leafs lose, it just ruins his whole week. This year he's done a good job stepping into a veteran role and taking more responsibility upon himself."
Smith grew up in southern Ontario and played junior hockey for the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League.
"We had a winning team every year I was there," Smith said. "They took pride in developing good players, and helping them move on and further their careers."
Smith's freshman year at LSSU was his first time away from home for an extended period. He roomed with former Lakers Mike and Mark Adamek, and Scoran, who were part of last year's 12-member senior class. Last year's team reunited at Jon Booras' summer wedding in Colorado.
"We want to get together out east this year," Smith said. "I'd like to see the guys all together one last time."
Smith feels like he owes something to the teammates who helped paved the way for him. That's why one of his career highlights is last season's sweep at Western Michigan, which was a first for LSSU since December, 2000.
"The guys who were here before us didn't get that chance," he said. "It was nice to seal the deal. It was nice to give back to the guys who have been working at that for four years."
In addition to his teammates, Smith is appreciative of the support he has received from his parents, Rick and Sandy. They are part of the reason he brings a relaxed attitude to the lockerroom.
"My dad is a big hockey fan. He threw skates on me, and I really loved it. My parents have been supportive through the hard times in hockey and have been there backing my decisions. I always loved the game, and that made it easier to stay in it.
"I'm not too loose and screwing around, but I pull a few pranks here and there. We play better when everyone is happy and having a good time."
Smith echoes his teammates, who have a goal of getting to Joe Louis Arena during this year's playoff run.
"A sweep is nice every once in a while, but as long as we get better every day - every day in practice and at the end of the year - I think we can have a great team and anything can happen," he said.
Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey