Smartt leads electrifying first line for GVSU

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Senior, Matt Smartt

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Senior, Matt Smartt

Adam Knorr

In the 1980 Olympics, Team USA captain Mike Eruzione scored the winning goal in the legendary “Miracle on Ice” game, a 4-3 upset over the heavily favored Soviet Union team. The win was a catalyst for one of the most renowned events in hockey history, as the U.S. team went on to win an unprecedented gold medal.

In 2006, a young Matt Smartt played in a hockey tournament of his own – albeit on a smaller stage – in Lake Placid, N.Y., where the Miracle on Ice took place 26 years beforehand.

Perhaps the fabled ice surface skated on isn’t the only thing in common between Smartt and Eruzione.

Fast forward to 2014. Smartt is still playing hockey, and he’s playing it well. He’s also a captain. His team, too, has the potential to go far. Sound familiar?

In his third year with the Grand Valley State University men’s club ice hockey team, Smartt has become one of the strongest sparks that ignites the raging fire that is the Laker offense, which averages 4.68 goals per game. The 5-foot-6 captain relies on a mixture of speed, skilled hands and a quick shot that combine to make him one of the toughest players on the ice to stop, regardless of the opponent.

“He’s got a great sense of awareness,” GVSU head coach Mike Forbes said. “He sees the ice well and his vision and hockey sense are really at the top of the game. He’s a whirling dervish out there. He never stops working, never stops moving.”

Smartt’s hockey journey began at age three when he first picked up a stick. A year later, he had already started playing organized hockey.

He continued to develop through the years and floated around various AAA and travel clubs before playing his senior season at De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren, Mich. He chose to forgo an opportunity to play juniors in Texas, opting to head to GVSU where he could excel in more than just sport.

The junior’s 21 assists, 14 goals and 35 points each rank as the second-most for the Lakers this season. He and his line mates, freshman JD Duckworth and junior Brad Wilhelm, rank 1-2-3 on the team in points.

Smartt’s role as a playmaker hasn’t been overlooked.

“If you ask him, I’m the goal scorer on the line,” Wilhelm said. “That’s not true. He’s very gifted at passing the puck and he gives me great passes that turn into great scoring opportunities. He is very quick and does the dirty stuff that I don’t like to do, so he makes me look better than I am.”

Smartt has been a mainstay atop the points list since his freshman campaign.

He racked up 36 points as a rookie and 40 as a sophomore — a mark he could break this year with six points in two games against Ohio State University this weekend.

The captain isn’t boisterous or boastful. Rather, he chooses to lead by example, not unlike his childhood idol and Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. Smartt, who is said to be quiet on and off the ice, maintains a demeanor that any hockey player would do well to emulate: one of hard work.

“He goes out on the ice every day and does what needs to be done with a smile on his face,” Wilhelm said. “He loves the game of hockey, he loves the team, and he’ll help you out on and off the ice with any problem. I don’t think you will ever find someone who dislikes him.”

Despite all the points and praise, however, there’s still one thing missing for Smartt — a national championship.

GVSU skated its way through the bracket in his freshman season but lost in the championship game against Florida Gulf Coast University. His sophomore year was much of the same, as GVSU once again fell one game short of the national title, this time to archrival Michigan State University.

He and the Lakers said things will be different in 2014.

“We’ve been in the finals every year I’ve been here so I expect nothing less than making it there again,” he said. “We can definitely do that with who we have. It’s obviously one of our goals to get there, and another is to win.

“I haven’t gotten that ring yet.”

A national title would not be a “miracle” — but Smartt’s Lakers are aiming a triumphant finish this time around.