With a Name Like Smith, It's Easy to Get Lost, But This UNH Sophomore is Turning Heads
by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
DURHAM, N.H. Look atop the scoring list in Hockey East and you'll find a name that few would have expected to see.
But Trevor Smith hasn't only helped New Hampshire rise to No. 2 in the polls, he's also eliciting comparisons with one of the Wildcats' all-time best.
Only a sophomore, the 6-1, 190-pound forward from British Columbia has already improved on his rookie season totals — in a third of the time.
Last season, Smith had 20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists in 39 games. He didn't even make the Hockey East All-Rookie Team.
This year, he leads all Hockey East players with 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in just 13 games. It's remarkably similar to another Wildcat, who also hailed from British Columbia.
Ten years ago, Jason Krog followed up a 20-point rookie campaign of his own by more than tripling his numbers to 23-44—67. Two years later, Krog became UNH's first, and so far only, Hobey Baker Award recipient, finishing as his alma mater's second all-time leading scorer.
Maybe it's a little early to make such a comparison. But for UNH head coach Dick Umile, it's not far-fetched at all.
"Don't laugh, that's exactly who he is," said Umile. "He's worked at his game, he can snap the puck just like Krog used to, he sees the ice just like Krog.
"So you're right on with him, that's exactly who we think he is too."
The 21-year-old Smith doesn't seem fazed by the comparison and the pressure that could come with it.
"I never saw him play, but actually today I was at the library studying and I got a little bored, so I looked up some of his stats online and I said, 'Whoa, he's a snipe,'" Smith said.
"I heard Coach saying his name with mine and I thought, that's a huge honor. He's a fantastic player, played a couple games this year already in the show, he's had a great career and a great career ahead of him. It's fantastic to be named with him."
Said Umile, "I think they're very, very similar. They're two B.C. guys who are not going to kill you with speed, but I'll tell you what, their anticipation, they're a step ahead of everybody; they're reading the play, they can pass the puck, and they can definitely bury it when they get an opportunity. So they're very similar."
Smith's rise to near-stardom might have caught some people by surprise, but not his coach.
"He was a good player last year, and the puck wasn't going in for him, and I think the second half of the season it started going in for him," said Umile. "He was kind of under the radar last year, people didn't realize how good of a player he is. We're not surprised by what he does. He worked real hard in the offseason, working on his shot, he's out here all the time working on it. He's got a great release, he's a smart player.
"We just think he's going to be one of the best players in the league. In college hockey you don't get better; the kid does it all, pass, score and he's smart."
Last year, Smith also wondered when the goals would come.
"Last year I was getting a lot of chances, the puck was there, it was on my stick, and some of the pucks weren't going in for me — it was like, 'How's that not going in'," said Smith with a laugh.
"This year I had a good start in Colorado (five points in a sweep at Colorado College), and I'm back together with [Jerry] Pollastrone and [Matt] Fornataro. I felt really comfortable with them, didn't have to get new linemates. It's just working for all three of us, the pucks are going in for all of us."
But you don't enjoy the kind of improvement Smith has had this year without putting in some time to make it happen.
"I had a great offseason," Smith said. "I worked a lot on endurance, did my running, got my wind up. We've got a lake out here, you've got to be in great shape to play. I did a lot of shooting as well, a lot of goalie schools and shooting on goalies. You know, they need the work, if I'm shooting a hundred pucks every half hour, it's fantastic."
The combination of skill and work ethic that Smith brings to the rink hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates or Umile, either.
"It's all what he does in practice," said Umile. "He works real hard, he's in the weight room, he's out here all the time working on his shot.
"It's not by accident that he's got a great release and a great shot. It doesn't just happen by accident, he works at it."
There's also an element of unselfishness that translates into the success Smith has enjoyed. Tuesday night against Merrimack, a team that tied and beat last year's UNH squad, it was another nail biter in the opening period until Smith's line gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
With the puck on the doorstep and a chance to add to his goal totals, Smith opted to pass up the point-blank shot and instead fed linemate Pollastrone for an even better shot and a goal.
"He's very unselfish," said Umile. "He centers that line and he's got two wings, Pollastrone and Fornataro, that have great chemistry with him and they read off of him well. It's become a great line."
"I think it comes with the territory," said Smith of knowing when to shoot and when to pass the puck. "You're seeing the ice better, you feel confident out there, and you know who's around you, especially playing with guys that you know where they're going to be on the ice.
"It's a lot easier to play like that. They're yelling at me to shoot it, or I'm yelling at them to shoot it if they have an open shot. It just works really well for us."
Smith also echoed his coach's comments about what makes his line work.
"Great chemistry on the ice and off the ice as well, that's a big part of it, in the dressing room ... I live with Pollastrone, he's my roommate, and Fornataro, a good Canadian kid, we're both from the West Coast. We have a couple of classes together, we hang out all the time.
"It's a good friendship and we take it over to the ice, we just feel really good."
The Wildcats stand at an impressive 10-2-1 (8-1-1 Hockey East), after finishing fourth last year and being picked to end up in the same spot this year by the league's coaches.
It may be a bit of a surprise, but this is clearly what Umile looked for coming into the season.
"We were hoping, because we really needed him to have this kind of start," said Umile. "It was going to be important for Radja, him, Fornataro and Pollastrone to have a good season, and they've been terrific. I've got no beefs with them at all, they've been great.
"They're the reason why we're playing well."