With the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars tied not just on the scoreboard but in the shootout, 11 skaters had already taken their turn. The only two players to score in the shootout were Patrick Sharp and Rich Peverley. But then, a little-known young role player by the name of Ben Smith stepped up to the plate. He fired a rocket past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen to give the Blackhawks their fifth-straight victory on the annual Circus Trip.
Smith, who is a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but grew up in Connecticut and is a Boston College product, has been something of a journeyman with the Hawks, splitting his time between the Blackhawks and the Rockford IceHogs. But right before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins, a late Marian Hossa scratch forced head coach Joel Quenneville to insert the then 24-year-old Smith into the lineup.
Aside from this trial by fire, Smith has been proven to be a dark horse role player for the Blackhawks. He only has eight points in the 2013-14 season and doesn’t rack up much ice time, but he’s been there when needed. It was Smith who scored the game winner in Game 6 of the 2011 Western Conference quarterfinals against the Vancouver Canucks.
Smith was on the “Black Aces” from last year’s Stanley Cup-winning team, who were basically the guys that worked out with the team but never saw any ice time. This year is certainly different given how the Blackhawks have had to deal certain players because of salary cap issues, but it’s given youngsters like him a chance to play in the NHL for the big-league team.
In his time with the Blackhawks, he’s logged a total average of 11:33 of ice time per game. While he’s nowhere near producing the big numbers expected of the big names, he’s been more of a workhorse player if anything. That said, even role players have time to shine, and Smith has done that more than enough.
It’s unlikely that Smith will end up back in Rockford this year, so his job shouldn’t be in doubt. However, he’s performed well enough that he’ll be an important role player with the Blackhawks for the time being — and don’t be surprised if he scores another game-winning goal.