Ryan Smith isn’t going to figure prominently on the scoresheet on a regular basis.
But the University of Maine’s senior left wing and assistant captain is one of those valuable role players who does a lot of the little things necessary to win hockey games.
He is a top-notch penalty-killer and has helped the Black Bears post the nation’s eight-best penalty-killing percentage (.879) going into this weekend’s series against Omaha of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
UMaine (9-8-3) and Omaha (8-8-2) play at 6 p.m. Friday in Orono and then at noon Sunday in Portland.
Smith is a good skater and a physical presence who uses his 6-foot, 214-pound frame to punish opposing defensemen.
“He is one of our more complete players,” UMaine senior right wing Patrick Shea said. “He has a good shot, he’s good defensively and offensively.”
UMaine head coach Red Gendron said Smith is playing the best hockey of his career.
“His performance here has been a relatively steady climb,” Gendron said.
“He has started to add more on the offensive side of things. He has been great.”
Smith had one of the best games of his career, logging three assists in Sunday’s 5-1 win over American International College. He and linemates Shea (2 goals, assist) and freshman center A.J. Drobot (goal, assist) combined for three goals and five assists.
Smith has provided two goals and three assists in his last six games and ranks sixth on the team with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 20 games. His previous season high was 10 points his freshman year. He has 16 goals and 17 assists in 112 career games.
“Our line has a good chemistry. We had generated a lot of [opportunities on] offense but hadn’t been rewarded for it. But it has started to come for us and we’re excited,” Smith said.
If that line can continue to produce goals, it would help take the pressure off the top two lines.
Smith said he feels he has improved every year at UMaine.
“I’ve become more of a complete player,” Smith said. “The coaches have done a great job developing my skills. I’ve become really strong in the corners, I’m better at taking pucks to the net.”
He also excels on the penalty kill.
“Penalty-killing is a big role for me and I take a lot of pride in it,” Smith said.
“When you block a shot on the penalty kill, you hear your bench cheering and it fires you up. I love doing it,” he said.
Smith enjoys providing a physical presence by doing things such as finishing checks.
“I have a big body and I like using it as much as I can,” Smith said. “I don’t mind playing in the defensive zone.”
Smith, who is from Georgia, began his career playing roller hockey. His older brothers, twins Drew and Alec, both played ice hockey. Drew played at Southern New Hampshire University.
Ryan Smith played Junior hockey for former National Hockey Leaguer Scott Pearson, the father of former UMaine teammate Chase Pearson. He said it was a great experience that included a lot of long-distance travel.
He eventually played for the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League, where he was recruited by former UMaine assistant Jay Leach.
“He used to live across the street from me [in Georgia] but I didn’t really know him [until he recruited me],” Smith said.
Smith also has committed himself to his role as a team leader and Gendron said he has been terrific in that regard.
“He was one of two seniors, along with Tim Doherty, who came up and spent time on campus with all of the freshmen this summer. He didn’t have to. That meant everything to us,” Drobot said.
Smith said being a captain means a lot to him.
“It’s crazy how things happen. I just try to lead by example and keep everybody positive,” Smith said.