Ice Hawks Smits Making Transition to ‘D’

Rochester Post Bulletin Friday Sept 22, 2017 Jason Feldman, jfeldman@postbulletin.com

Michael Smits has gone from an F to a D.

But the most important letter for Smits this fall is a ‘C.’

The second-year Rochester Ice Hawk has done whatever the coaches have asked of him, including transition from a forward (F) to a defenseman (D), a position where the Ice Hawks had little depth and less experience heading into the season.

“He can do everything,” Ice Hawks alternate captain Zach Curry said. “He can play forward, play defense … he’s just a hard worker all the time.”

Along with Smits’ position transition has come a big letter “C” on his jersey, as the team’s captain for the 2017-18 season. The Ice Hawks (0-1-0 overall) play at Breezy Point on Friday night, then play their home opener at 7:05 p.m. Saturday against Breezy Point at the Rochester Recreation Center.

“When you get into training camp, you have an idea of who could be the captain, but you can’t force it,” Ice Hawks head coach Eric Hofmann said. “When guys are stressed and pressured and put into tough situations, who are they going to rally around? Who’s going to lead them? Who can handle it?

“Smits was the guy who new guys, old guys, they rallied around him and it became a no-brainer.”

Smits was the Hawks’ seventh-leading scorer last season, scoring three goals and adding 13 assists. He was an unknown to the team’s coaches in the weeks leading up to the season, but earned a spot on the roster through an open tryout camp, then earned a nightly spot in the lineup.

When the Ice Hawks reported to camp this season, they had just two defensemen. They have added three more in the past two weeks, but lost their only veteran blue-liner, Ryley Cook, who left the team last week.

Smits, who played defense as a senior at River Falls (Wis.) High School, was quick to step up and make the move from forward to the back end.

“It wasn’t a huge change, but there is still a lot to work on and learn,” said Smits, 19. “I’m just being a sponge, asking lots of questions, and focusing in practice on what I can do better.”

While Smits said his defensive instincts returned immediately, he’s still a forward by trade, having played that position his entire life, up until he made the switch to get more ice time in his final high school season.

“In high school, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “Here it just feels more natural. Maybe because it’s the second time around.”

The Ice Hawks coaches have raved about Smits’ ability on the blue line, and the way he has helped and learned from his fellow defensemen.

“We want him to hold his teammates and himself accountable,” Hofmann said, “be a role model and a leader. And we want to help him develop into a man, help him along the path he’s already a long way down.

“He has the work ethic, the mature mindset, his skills are improving and that’s due to his work ethic. He’s learning every day and wants to work on the little things.”

As for the “C” on his sweater, Smits takes it seriously, but said it’s important to continue to be himself.

“For me, it doesn’t change too much,” he said. “It’s just taking a little more of a look at how I approach things and stepping up and being a leader in every situation.”