One of North Dakota’s leaders this season has been Matt Smaby (TB). The rugged defenseman serves as North Dakota’s team captain and has been a stabilizing presence on the Fighting Sioux’s predominantly young defensive corps.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Smaby after practice on Wednesday at the Bradley Center.
HF: Does it feel better to be here than last year?
MS: It’s a different feeling. Last year, we were really, really excited to be here and maybe we didn’t expect to be here. This year, we’re calmer and more relaxed. We’re here to enjoy the experience and hopefully play well.
HF: You guys lost a lot of players after last season and the team has brought in many great young players, what do you feel is the big difference between the team that got here last year and the one that’s gotten here this year?
MS: I think the big difference is that we’re a really skilled, young team. We play with a lot of fire. At times it’s hard for other teams to match our intensity because we’re always going and we’re always playing hard. We were way bigger last year yet we’re just as physical this year as we were last year. We still have that aspect of the game, and we can skate too.
HF: It seems like with the aspect of having so many young guys on your team this year that you guys are having a lot more fun this year too.
MS: Yeah, it doesn’t really feel like much of a job. We’re here to have fun. They’re a great group of guys and we get along really well. It’s a great experience.
HF: You took over the team captaincy from Matt Greene this season. How has that experience been for you?
MS: Awesome. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a leader and how to handle tough situations. It has really helped my game. It puts pressure on me to show up every night, contribute and set the tone. I learned a lot of things from Matt.
HF: With all of these young guys that you play with on defense such as Brian Lee and Taylor Chorney, what’s it like playing with them because your game is so different from theirs. You’re the big enforcer guy out there and they tend to be more offensive-minded defensemen?
MS: As much as people say that I’ve taught the younger guys, I think they’ve taught me just as much about having a well-rounded game, jumping into the offensive play, taking a few more chances and playing with the puck. I’ve just tried to learn all that stuff and we try to help each other out a little bit.
HF: Being one of the few upperclassmen on defense, do you feel that you’ve had to play mentor to the younger players, specifically the freshmen?
MS: A little bit but in a good way. The younger players are extremely skilled, which helps because it’s easy for them to work. The way I approach it is think positive and support them. I’ve been there and I’ve gone through the hard times and I know what it’s like to go through what they’re going through.
HF: With assuming more of a leadership role on the team this year, how has your role on the team changed from last year?
MS: I think last year it was a little easier for me to sit back a little and let other players set the tone. This year, I have to go out there and being one of the biggest guys, I have to go out there and contribute more physically and offensively and help give our team a chance to win every night.
HF: Now for the big question, is this the year that you guys do it (win the national championship)?
MS: I have a great feeling about it. Our main focus is tomorrow. You can’t win if you don’t win tomorrow. I think we can show that we can play a great game and if we could do that, get the wheels going a little bit and gain that momentum, then I think we can do it.
HF: What is the one mistake that you guys learned from the experience of last year’s Frozen Four that you’re intent on not to making again this year?
MS: Anything can happen. It’s a game of chances and bounces. We just have to go out and play our best. We still have that bitter taste in our mouths from last year and that has fueled us all year long. I just think expressing that bitter feeling we had from last year’s loss to Denver drives us. Losing the last game of the year is pretty tough, so we’ve just kind of kept that with us all year long.
HF: I bet you guys are glad that Denver is not here.
MS: Yeah (laughing), they’ve had our number for a little while.
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