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Sunday, April 22, 2012
Austin Smith gets valuable experience in brief AHL stint

By Mark Stepneski

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Austin Smith was almost a goal a game guy in college this past season, but the goals didn’t come easy when he joined the Texas Stars for the final three weeks of the AHL season.

“I’ve had plenty of opportunities, hit a couple of posts, couple of good saves,” Smith said as the Texas Stars were preparing to play their final home game of the season. “Chances are coming and I am creating a lot. That’s what they are looking for and that is good. I’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

Smith, the Dallas native selected by the Dallas Stars in the 5th round (128th overall) of the 2007 draft, couldn’t find the back of the net in Texas’ final two games. He ended up with three assists in 12 games in his first taste of AHL action after a four-year college career at Colgate.

“I think it’s a good test for me early in my career to learn what it takes to get the puck in the net, and to know that you are going to go through some hot streaks and some streaks where it really doesn’t go,” Smith said. “It’s a really good experience in that regard.”

The 12 AHL games were a good experience in many regards for the 23-year-old Smith, a speedy, skilled right wing who signed a two-year entry-level deal with Dallas after wrapping up his college career, and then joined Texas on an amateur tryout contract.

“There’s more structure. In college we were go, go, go all the time and here I’ve got to learn to stay back and feed into the system,” Smith said. “It’s been kind of difficult for me, but I am learning it and adjusting. I am learning where I can use my speed, too, and insert my game into the system.

“I don’t know if it’s much faster, but you have to know where to be and turnovers are huge at this level. You turn it over and it is in the back of your net,” Smith said. “It’s just the little things you have to do every night, and really paying attention to detail. And the goalies are a little better, so you’ve really got to bear down around the net.”

Although Smith couldn’t find the back of the net, Texas Stars GM Scott White liked what he saw from Smith.

“Smitty has been good. Snake-bitten if you asked him. If he wasn’t getting the chances then I’d have issues, but he’s getting chances,” White said. “He’s learning how to play the American League game, big men, good defensemen night in and night out. I like his energy. He hunts pucks, he tracks back and he doesn’t quit. The goals will come. He’s hit about eight or nine posts.”

Smith joined Texas after putting together a spectacular senior season at Colgate University in upstate New York. He led the nation in goal scoring with 36 in 39 games and finished third with 57 points.  He was the ECAC Player of the Year and College Hockey News National Player of the Year.

Smith, who played his youth hockey in Dallas and played for two years at Dallas Jesuit High, was one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the top player in college hockey.

“It was a great year. It was really fun,” Smith said. “At the end I was disappointed I didn’t win the Hobey. I pretty much got every other award I could have for the year. That says a lot about our program and our team. Not for me, but I kind of wanted to win the Hobey for my school and for Texas hockey. It really had nothing to do with me; I just wanted to have it for those two things.”

With the college career behind him, Smith is now looking ahead to a professional career. He’s got his goals set for the offseason. Like most young players, getting bigger and stronger are at the top of the list.

“It was a long year. I lost 10-12 pounds. I need to put on some weight and I need to learn how to keep it on,” said Smith, who was listed at 5-11, 180 pounds at the start of the season. “It’s all part of being at this level, learning how to maintain your body. That’s got to be my biggest focus, go home and put on some weight. I don’t think strength has been a problem for me at this level, I think my quickness kind of helps me out but I want to put on that strength.”

He’s expected to play with the Texas Stars next season and he’s already got some goals in mind, and one of them is showing that he can put the puck in the net at the AHL level.

“I still believe I am a goal scorer and a great playmaker,” Smith said. “I want to make those plays and I want to continue to be successful that way at this level.”