Jason Smith is finally living the hockey
life that he could only imagine for the past two years.
Smith has ascended to the job of starting
goaltender for Sacred Heart and is making the most
of it. The junior from St. Lambert, Que., is off to
a 6-3-1 start and ranks best among Atlantic Hockey
netminders with a 2.24 goals-against average, which
ranks 12th in the nation. His .919 save percentage
is good for second in the league behind Holy Cross’
Tony Quesada and ranks 14th nationally.
“I was thirsty to play, and now
I’m getting playing time,’’ says
a grateful Smith.
“He’s been real solid in
the net,’’ said Sacred Heart coach Shaun
Hannah. “Positionally he’s playing great
and making the big save. He’s not leaving a
lot of rebounds and is playing a solid game for us.’’
Hannah signed Smith out of the Quebec
junior leagues with a plan to bring him along slowly
while he rode veteran Kevin LaPointe for two more
seasons. Smith appeared in five games as a freshman
and just eight as a sophomore (LaPointe appeared in
58 contests). Smith handled the situation well, but
wasn’t always easy.
“I was hoping for a bit more playing
time,’’ Smith admits. “I thought
I would see a little more action.’’
Hannah held regular discussions with
Smith. “He just said that it was a process …
that’s all it was,’’ Smith said.
“I understood. I am a patient guy and understand
things. I knew what my role was. I just kept a good
spirit about it and worked real hard.
“I didn’t waste my time
here. I learned a lot in those two years. I learned
mostly mental stuff about the game. Technically the
thing I’ve improved the most is reading the
shots, reading the releases from the players, knowing
where the puck is going to end up before it even leaves
Smith’s burgeoning maturity was
not lost on Hannah.
“He came in with great skill,’’
Hannah said, “but he has learned how to play
at this level.’’
The Pioneers are benefiting from Smith’s
play. His 18-save effort against Army on Nov. 29 staked
Sacred Heart to a 4-2 victory and a move into first
place in Atlantic Hockey.
“We’re having a great season
thus far,’’ Smith said. “Things
are falling all together. … We knew we had a
lot of talent, even on paper. I think we’re
where we’re supposed to be. This is where we
wanted to be.’’
Handling the pressure of a pennant chase
is nothing new for Smith. He has been scrutinized
closely by the hockey media since being chosen in
the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Draft by the New Jersey
Devils. While Smith is proud to be chosen by a great
organization (“I won’t lie; it’s
fun to be drafted,’’ he said), he hardly
gives the Devils much thought as he concentrates on
his business studies and his hockey. He is reminded
of his pro selection only when he reads the letters
“NJD” next to his name in statistic packages
or is asked about it by the media.
“Honestly I am taking it one step
at a time,’’ Smith said. “I am not
thinking about this whole NHL situation. This is my
first year starting … I have this year and the
(next) year. We’ll take it from there, wherever
it leads me.’’
If anything, Smith is more bothered
by people who question why he decided to play at Sacred
Heart and in Atlantic Hockey rather than play at a
bigger school in one of the four older Division I
“Being a goalie it doesn’t
matter where you play … Guy Hebert came out
of (Division III),’’ Smith said. “I’m
in Division I, it’s good caliber and we’re
playing good teams.
“I spoke to other schools but
I committed here. I don’t think I made a bad
choice ... When I came here, coach made it very one-on-one
with me. It was very personal, the visit. The people
were great. I kind of like the campus, and when I
met the guys, they were awesome. In college, that’s
what you want, to have a good time and to go to school.
Everything is going perfectly right now.’’
Great Weekend Getaway
Cross at Canisius (Fri.-Sat.) Holy Cross has dominated the series
in the past four seasons, winning seven and
tying four of the last 11 meetings. It helps
when you can win on the road, and the Crusaders
have done just that in Buffalo, posting five
wins and three ties in the last 12 games at
Buffalo State Arena. The Crusaders own a 15-7-7
all-time series lead.
While You're There: Buffalo
is rich in holiday theater productions. There
is a holiday lights festival at The Fairgrounds
in Hamburg, south of Buffalo. The Amherst Museum
is hosting an art exhibit of 19th Century Western
New York paintings. If you would like to forget
about the snow and cold, think tropical as model
trains from the banana republics of Central
America are on display at the Buffalo and Erie
County Botanical Gardens (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). And
don’t leave town without grabbing a couple
dozen Buffalo wings.
Cross played the role of The Grinch
at RPI’s Holiday Tournament, beating the
Engineers 3-2 in the opening round behind Dale
Reinhardt’s game-winner and 33 saves by
Tony Quesada. It was the Crusaders’ first
win in five meetings with RPI.
AIC was blanked
for the second time this season, falling 5-0
to RIT in the B.O.T.A (battle of the abbreviations).
Sure, American International is a young club,
but the Yellow Jackets are going to have to
start finding some scoring. AIC has scored one-or-fewer
goals in six of nine contests and just three
goals in the last four outings.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Bounce-backs: Canisius owns
a 1-5 mark on Fridays but improves to 3-1-1 on Saturdays.
• Overtime is Griff time: Canisius
is 2-0-1 in overtime contests this season. Andrew
Dawe scored at 4:18 of the extra session last Saturday,
giving the Griffins a 4-3 win and weekend split with
• November surge: Canisius junior
Joey Coccimiglio posted 11 points during November,
the best month by a Golden Griffin since Chris Duggan
had 11 points in February 2002.
• November swoons: Mercyhurst
has lost three games in a row, non-league contests
against Yale (6-3) and Ferris State (6-3 and 5-4).
It is the first time the Lakers have dropped three
in a row since the same point last season when Mercyhurst
lost to Massachusetts and Colgate (twice). Coach Rick
Gotkin’s squad, which hosts Bentley in a two-game
set this weekend, has not dropped four in a row since
losing five in a row from Nov. 16 to Dec. 7, 2002.
Bentley fourth-year coach Ryan Soderquist owns a 2-7-1
mark against Mercyhurst. Lakers coach Rick Gotkin
enjoys a 12-4-2 advantage in 18
seasons against Bentley.
• Still the toast: Mercyhurst
forward Scott Champagne has extended his point-scoring
streak to 32 games. His goal against Yale came in
the 30th game and broke the school-record tie with
former All-America player Scott Burfoot (1990-91 season).
• Where did you park the bus?:
Bentley’s weekend series in Erie, Pa., marks
the first time the Falcons have hit the road since
Nov. 4 when they forged a 1-1 tie with Sacred Heart.
The home cooking was quite nice as Bentley posted
a 3-1-2 monthly record, the team’s best November
record in seven years. Bentley could use a little
road success following an 0-3-1 start away from Waltham,
• Keeping it close: American International
owns a slim 30-29-7 lead over Connecticut in a series
which resumes this weekend, Friday in Storrs, Conn.,
and Saturday in West Springfield, Mass. The clubs
went 1-1-1 last season.
• Uncomfortable out of league
play: American International had just three non-league
games on its schedule. AIC dropped a pair to Quinnipiac
and last Saturday’s game with Rochester Institute
of Technology. The Yellow Jackets lost all six non-league
regular-season affairs last season and went 1-7 the
season before, securing a 5-3 win over visiting Wayne
State on Dec. 12, 2003. A loss the next night marked
the start of a 10-game non-conference losing streak.
• Taking a break: Holy Cross has
26 days off following its weekend visit to Canisius,
resuming on Dec. 29 at Ohio State. The rest of the
league still has one more week of play before the
annual holiday break.
• See you next season: Rochester
Institute of Technology is getting a good head start
on its move into Atlantic Hockey next season. The
Tigers own a 3-2 record against its future league
foes this season, beating Air Force (it joins Atlantic
Hockey next season as well), Canisius and American
International while losing to Canisius and Sacred
Heart. The “six points” in the standings
would put RIT in sixth place, ahead of Army, Connecticut
and AIC. RIT still has three more games with Air Force
and a road game with Mercyhurst.
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation
of this report.