Four goals can’t cheer up the Gophers’ Smith

Aaron Kirscht

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — His four goals and an assist against Colorado College on Saturday may not have earned Gophers junior Wyatt Smith the win he wanted, but they did get him a longer shower.
Smith was one of the last players to emerge from the steam that poured out of the tiled half of the visitor’s locker room. He looked refreshed, but hardly re-energized. The smiles and the confident posture that should have followed the best offensive game of his Gophers career were missing.
“Four goals means nothing right now,” Smith said. “They had more.”
Smith’s offensive explosion was a highlight in a weekend full of lows. Colorado College swept Minnesota 4-3, 9-6, and completed the first four-game season series sweep of a Gophers team since the 1979-80 season. The Tigers hadn’t won four in a season from Minnesota in more than forty years.
So Smith was in no mood to slap himself on the back in congratulation for a wasted effort. In fact, he was seething. This series, and this season, did not go as expected.
“We showed in the third period (on Friday) that we could come out and play,” Smith said. “But we didn’t do it in the first period (Saturday) when it matters most. The first period was where the game ended.”
Smith scored just 25 seconds into the third period on Friday, starting a flurry of Gophers scoring opportunities. Minnesota outshot the Tigers 16-5 in that period, but Colorado College’s defense and goaltending came through in a way that the Gophers’ could not.
Then the Tigers exploded for five first-period goals the next night, a performance remindful of North Dakota’s five-goal third period last month. Just when Minnesota seemed poised for a breakthrough, its opponent began to score at will.
“They were ready to play, and we weren’t,” Smith said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Smith has come ready to play all season, and he’s shown an uncanny knack for scoring points in bunches. The Warroad, Minn., native is by far the Gophers’ leading scorer with 23 goals and 19 assists. In his last seven games, Smith has 10 goals and 4 assists, including his first two career hat tricks.
But with the Gophers’ season-long swoon, his play has gone largely unnoticed. If Minnesota was in the upper half of the WCHA standings, Smith would be a shoo-in for league honors. Most of those spots, though, will now likely be reserved for front-line players from North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin and Colorado College. A similar fate will likely befall Smith’s teammate Reggie Berg, who, heading into the weekend, was tied for the lead in the WCHA scoring race.
Smith has a chance of being named offensive player of the week on Monday, but even with his five-goal weekend — a total no other player in the conference can match — the chance is slim. Those laurels are reserved for players on winning teams. And Smith, it seems, has no problem with that.
“If we’re not winning, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “It should be fun to score a hat trick, but it isn’t. It actually kind of sucks.”