by John Peterson
Former Austin Bruins forward C.J. Smith (Des Moines, IA) is drawing lots of national attention in his first season of college hockey.
The UMass-Lowell freshman has established himself as one of the most feared forwards in the Hockey East Conference, and now he’s being honored for his early successes.
Smith has been named one of 20 semifinalists for the 63rd annual Walter Brown Award, given each year to the best American-born player in New England. He is averaging nearly a point per game (13-17=30) in 31 games this season for the Riverhawks, the team that former Bruins defenseman Christian Folin played for before signing with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
Of the 20 semifinalists for the prestigious award, Smith and projected top pick in this summer’s NHL Draft, Jack Eichel (Boston University) are the only two freshman. Last year, current Calgary Flames rookie Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College) took home the award.
The native of the Hawkeye State was also named Hockey East Rookie of the Month earlier in the season, after posting four goals and five assists in eight November games.
Before stepping onto college ice, Smith enjoyed three successful seasons in junior. In his rookie season in Austin in 2011-12, he notched 27 points (13-14=27) in 53 games for the Bruins. 2012-13 was even better for Smith. He totaled 59 points (30-29=59) in 60 games in helping the Bruins to their first NAHL Central Division regular season title.
Last year, Smith started the season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) before finding a home with the Chicago Steel, where he put up 40 points (23-17=40) in 46 games.
Success stories like Smith’s and Folin’s have bolstered recruiting for both the Bruins and UMass-Lowell, as well as strengthened the pipeline that connects the two teams. Two members of the 2013-14 Bruins squad that made it to the Robertson Cup Finals have also committed to the Riverhawks. Lucas Kohls (Forest Lake, MN) is a redshirt freshman at UMass-Lowell, and Guillaume Leclerc (Franois, France) is currently with the USHL’s Madison Capitols, with intentions to play for the Riverhawks as early as next year.