Veteran Freshman

The eligibility tag states 'freshman' next to Craig Smith's biography. His numbers say otherwise. Scoring his first collegiate goal Friday to go along with his team-best seven assists, Smith is doing more in less time than your typical freshman.

MADISON - The term ‘freshman' doesn't necessarily apply to freshman Craig Smith.

Maybe it's the fact that the 6-foot forward is 21 years old or that Smith knew what to expect coming to the Wisconsin hockey program, seeing as the former Madison La Follette standout played with current teammates Andy Bohmbach and Podge Turnbull with the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks.

Whatever the cause, Smith's calm demeanor on the ice is far from the typical ‘deer-in-the-headlights' look that plague freshman during the first two weekends of college hockey.

"I've kind of been labeled the ‘veteran freshman,'" Smith joked.

Not a bad start for the ‘seasoned veteran' and Madison native. In seven games, Smith has eight points, including seven assists, which are tied for the team lead, a stat that has pushing the freshman from the third line with Derek Stepan and Jordy Murray to UW's top line with seniors Andy Bohmbach and Blake Geoffrion.

"Coming in, it was a lot of fun and a really good adjustment," Smith said. "I am playing with two guys and it's been a joy playing with them. We've been clicking."

On Friday night, it was the simple awareness that got Smith his first career goal. Seeing the loose puck bang off the boards, Smith controlled the puck and banged home a backhanded attempt just 14 seconds into the opening period.

Twelve minutes later, Smith's awareness played a vital part again, as Smith, positioned behind the net, spotted a wide-open Cody Goloubef between the circles and watched the junior fire home UW's second goal.

"I think he can grow even to a higher level, and he'll tell you the same thing," UW coach Mike Eaves said. "But he's going to be a fine player, and he gives us a combination of physical strength and skill, which is nice to have as a player."

It hasn't been all fun and games for Smith. Assessed a five-minute major and game disqualification penalty for checking Minnesota State left winger Geoff Irwin from behind, Smith appeared to be moving at top speed when he launched Irwin into the boards, causing a separated shoulder for Irwin.

The hit was deemed dangerous enough that, in addition to sitting out a game due to the DQ, another game was added by the University.

Forced to sit out the series sweep against New Hampshire, Smith responded by registering two assists in each game against Minnesota.

"It was tough watching, but I learned a lesson," Smith said. "I'm going to play hard and the same way, just smarter."

Smith isn't the only freshman to have impressed during the opening stretches of the 2009-10 hockey season. Justin Schultz and John Ramage have been staples in Wisconsin's six-man rotation in the defense core, breaking the puck out corner, captaining the power play and moving the puck like a pair of upperclassmen.

"We're using them in all situations and they seem to be doing some darn good things for us," Eaves said of his new players. "That's a healthy sign for this club."

Showing patience with the puck, making the right decisions, not rushing passes – Smith's seven-game performance doesn't qualify for the start of a typical collegiate career. Brewing with confidence and comfort, nothing would suggest this freshman is going to play with anything less.

"I have a lot of expectations places on myself," Smith said. "If I do the little things and make the simple plays, being the gritty, tough, type of player that I am, I think I am going to fit in nicely."

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