March 10, 2009
BOSTON, MA - It had been a while since Kristen Smith (Beavercreek, OH) hit the ice in a competitive hockey atmosphere, but this season with the UMass Boston Women's Ice Hockey team, the sophomore transfer made an immediate impact and fit right in. Not only did the forward see her first collegiate shift with the Beacons, her debut campaign was extremely impressive at the Harbor Campus with the stats to back it up. She excelled on the ice finishing second on the team in goals scored with 16 and ended up tied for third in points with 22. Her journey to Beaconville has had a few stops but ultimately, Smith is glad to be back on the ice, a place where she's always felt right at home.
In high school, Smith skated for The Culver Academies in Culver, IN. At the private school, Smith shined on the ice under the instruction of head coach David Girard. She earned three varsity letters playing hockey for the Eagles and received the teams' Most Improved Player Award for the strides made during her career. Smith's achievements on the ice did not go unnoticed, as many collegiate women's hockey programs around the country took an interest in what she brought to the table, many recruiting her to play for and attend their institutions.
Out of all the schools trying to lure her to play, she ended up less than 70 miles from home at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. Although she did not receive a scholarship to play for the Buckeyes, Smith was a recruited walk-on, meaning that head coach Jackie Barto had seen her abilities and knew that there would be a spot on the roster for the talented goal scorer.
Unfortunately for Smith, she suffered a very serious ankle injury before the start of what would have been her freshman campaign for OSU. The setback would require two surgeries and sideline her for the entire season, in which she red-shirted to save a year of her eligibility. Working alongside with the Buckeye training staff, Smith was able to rehab her ankle to the point where she was ready to hit the ice for her second season at the University.
"I was so excited to able to skate again, but re-joining the team opened my eyes as to how demanding a Division I program was. Time-wise, being part of the team was like your job," said Smith. "Everything you did was hockey. You practiced, played, and studied hockey; that's just how it was. It was always a dream of mine to play at that level, and something I always wanted to do, but after being there for that season, it was just a lot to handle."
The Buckeyes would go 17-17-3 during the 2007-08 campaign, but Smith only suited up for five of those games and never even stepped foot on the ice for a shift.
"It was different, coming back from the ankle injury and then working so hard in practice; I wanted to be out there, but never really got the chance to be. That's just how it works sometimes, I'm not angry about it, I just used it as more motivation for when my time would come," said Smith.
Following the culmination of her first official year with the Buckeyes, Smith informed Coach Barto that she intended on transferring to a program that would be a better fit for personal growth as a player. The OSU Sports Information Department helped Smith by sending releases to almost every Division III Women's Ice Hockey program, notifying them that she would be leaving the Buckeyes program in hopes to play at another institution. UMass Boston was one of the many programs that immediately expressed interest in the forward.
"I was excited that the UMass Boston program was interested because there were a few connections to that program within the Buckeye family. Coach Crowell of UMass Boston had recruited me coming out of high school so it was nice to speak with her again. Also, my former assistant coach at OSU, Catherine Hanson, had coached Maura [Crowell] while she was playing for Colgate. Coach Hanson believed that Coach Crowell would be a great coach to play for, and that was really reassuring. Those two factors really helped in making my decision to transfer to UMass Boston," said Smith.
Smith admits that in the spring of 2008 when she first visited the UMass Boston campus, she was a little surprised because it was so much different from the campus of OSU.
"There were no dorms, which was just so different from what I was used to. But one thing that I saw when I talked to Coach Crowell and some of the team was that there was a lot of commitment to the program. Everyone wanted to do well here, and that was the type of program I wanted to be a part of."
On Nov. 7, 2008 in her first game with the Beacons, wearing number 24, Smith scored a goal on the first full strength shift oh her collegiate career. Aside from being the first goal of her college hockey career, this one goes down as an even more special goal because her mother, Gayle Smith, had made the trip from Dayton, OH all the way to Boston to watch her hit the ice for the first time since high school.
"I'm glad I got that one out of the way," exclaimed Smith. "I was so excited when my Mom told me she was going to make the trip for the game, so I was hoping that I would contribute in the game. Scoring the goal in front of her was pretty special, she's been there supporting me from day one, so it was a great feeling having her there."
The Beacons would go on to win the game against Nichols, 6-1, in the 2008-09 season opener, and Smith would go on to score plenty of other goals during the campaign in which UMass Boston would qualify for the ECAC East Women's Ice Hockey Tournament as the number four seed. The Beacons would fall in the first round of the playoff action to Salve Regina but Smith reflects on her first full season of college hockey as a very positive experience, with room to grow.
"We only had one senior this season, so the core of our team will be coming back. This time next year, I envision our team still playing in the NCAA Regional Tournament. If we continue to improve the way we did this year, winning the ECAC's is definitely within our reach. Talent-wise, I think we are the best team in the league and with a year of experience under our belts, I think it will allow for everyone to just come in next year and focus on what needs to get done. It was a great first year in Boston, but I'm already excited for next season."
She's not the only one. With the possibility of 21 returners and a new class of recruits to add into the mix, anyone that followed the program this season knows that next season has the potential to be something very special.
"Division I hockey is all about talent," said Smith, "but Division III hockey is more about heart. The Beacons have lots of heart, and that's why I'm so glad to now be a part of this program."
Smith made the transition from Buckeye Country into Beaconville seamless, and with her and the other top five point leaders returning to the squad for the 2009-10 season, the future looks bright for the Beacons' Women's Ice Hockey program.