Commitment Q&A: Ala.-Huntsville's Roberts Smits
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
Alabama-Huntsville picked up another solid commitment from Latvian-born forward Roberts Smits. The 6-foot-1 winger came to the United States in 2011 and has been playing with Selects Hockey Academy in preparation for jumping to college hockey.
Smits recently caught up with CHN for the latest installment of our Commitment Q&A.
CHN: First, what made UAH the right place for you? It's definitely a program on the rise and, along with yourself, have committed some good players lately.
Smits: "I felt that UAH was the right place for me because of all of the great people that support the team and the school. I felt like everyone was so supportive and devoted.
"I always have liked to feel that I add value to my team and strengthen it with my play. I have never selfishly tried to get more points but always loved to make the play and felt happy when we succeeded. Therefore I also like to play center as I can coordinate my line-mates and make the plays.
"It was for my playmaking and shooting skills that I was invited by Johan Sundberg, one of Sweden's best junior coaches, to join his "Nacka" U16 team in Stockholm 3 years ago. That season we became Stockholm league regional champions and won Sweden's most prestigious U16 cup ("Modo Cup") for the first time in Nacka's history. The following season I joined Selects Hockey Academy in its start-up year at South Kent School, CT. It was a brand new team in its debut season but I believed in the coach and the program and wanted to be part of this and add value to this exiting startup. Currently we are ranked 10th in the country (U18 rankings) and I am very proud to be our team captain.
"After visiting UAH and meeting with the coaches I decided that I want to be part of its development and help the team to succeed and reach new achievements.
CHN: How would you describe your style?
Smits: "I am a skilled power forward. I am fast and strong, I read the game very well and I like to make nice plays. I play in key situations in games. The stronger the opponent the tougher I play. I am an all-around player. You could compare my style of play to David Backes'. He is a great power forward with skill, but yet he is an all-around skilled and great player. He throws hits, but he also makes key plays in games. Great vision, hockey sense, and a leader on the St. Louis Blues. I also try to lead by example on my team."
CHN: Had you visited any other schools?
Smits: "I had visited Sacred Heart University, and was scheduled to visit the University of Connecticut and Brown University."
CHN: You have taken a unique path to college hockey, coming from Latvia. What made you first want to come play hockey in the U.S.?
Smits: "It all started in 2005, when I first stepped on the ice with many of the NHL stars. That was at a World Star Tour practice in Riga, Latvia, during the 2005 NHL lockout. I had already played hockey for 5 years, since the age of 5. But being so lucky to get on the ice and even get to practice with Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Rob Blake, Sergei Fedorov, Tony Amonte, and Luc Robitaille was unforgettable. From that moment NHL became my big dream and goal. It has driven me since. That summer I went to USA for the first time and to my first hockey camp there. For 3 consecutive summers I practiced with coach Tim Army at Providence College Summer Camp. I also got to develop my skills at Boston University's summer camp and as a shooter at Martin Brodeurs' goalie camp.
"I come from a hockey family in a hockey nation. My mom was involved in organizing the 2006 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship in our hometown, Riga. My grandpa played hockey since childhood and still is a great hockey fan. Ice hockey is definitely the national sport in Latvia but development conditions for young players are difficult. To improve my hockey, I therefore decided to move from Latvia at the age of 13, when I got a great offer from coach Mikael Kempe, father of Mario and Adrian, who was my line mate for the first two years in Sweden, to come to Sweden to play hockey and go to school there. I felt that was the right thing for me to do.
"In total I played 3 years in Sweden. In my third year, Coach Sundberg in Nacka offered me to go to the Montreal Meltdown Showcase in Canada. While in Montreal I then got invited to go to the Green Mountain Glades (EJHL) main camp. It was there, in Vermont, that I met and was recruited by Coach Devin Rask, who was just setting up the very first Selects Hockey Academy team. This seemed such a great opportunity and a perfect fit for me, combining great hockey with great education, in the USA, the home of NHL! And that's what I aim to continue in Huntsville, Alabama - combining great NCAA Division I hockey with great academics!"
CHN: Have you noticed any differences from the style the game is here to what it is back home?
Smits: "The game in the US is much faster and physical than back home. When I first came here, in my sophomore year, I really had to make some adjustments to my play in order to succeed. I feel like one has to think and react faster, you have less time with the puck. There is also less hitting back home."