Despite high school injury, missed season, Smaagaard excels

Men’s hockey junior Garrett Smaagaard tore his ACL and MCL playing high school football at Eden Prairie.

Lou Raguse

Whether off the boards or just in front of a wayward hockey stick, the passes were right on the money.

During last weekend’s men’s hockey series at Wisconsin, Minnesota forward Thomas Vanek scored goals off assists from a previously unfamiliar linemate – Garrett Smaagaard.

A junior this season, Smaagaard is just hitting his stride and is a key Gophers contributor. His late emergence comes from the fact that Smaagaard did not play a single hockey game his senior year in high school.

In the fall of 2000, while playing free safety for Eden Prairie High School in the state championship game, Smaagaard tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medium collateral ligament in his knee. Smaagaard, the Eagles’ career interception leader, played the rest of the game with the injury and helped the team to victory.

After surgery, the Gophers urged Smaagaard to play junior hockey for a year. But because he was already accepted at Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, Smaagaard wanted to start school without any postponement.

“I probably shouldn’t have (started without junior hockey experience), but with the whole championship deal, I’m not going to regret anything,” Smaagaard said.

Smaagaard played 19 games as a freshman on Minnesota’s 2002 championship team, then 21 games during last season’s title run.

The disjointed ice time made it difficult for the forward to find his flow, especially because he pressured himself to make big plays to prove he deserved a regular lineup spot.

So far this year, Smaagaard has found himself as a regular on the fourth line, and although he is more talented than most teams’ fourth-line players, he still has room for growth.

After the sweep at the hands of North Dakota, coach Don Lucia jumbled his lines, moving Smaagaard next to the high-profiled Vanek. And Smaagaard responded on the ice.

“He’s really improved this year, and it’s not a surprise,” Lucia said. “He’s taken another step in his development – he can skate, he can make some plays and he plays extremely hard – so it’s a big addition (to our team) how well he’s played this year.”

In the Wisconsin series, Smaagaard registered two assists, both on Vanek goals. And after each game, he and fellow linemate Jake Fleming received praise from Lucia.

This week in practice, Smaagaard has been skating with Vanek and senior Matt Koalska.

“If you get the puck to Thomas, he’s going to score some goals,” Smaagaard said. “I’m only out there on the five-on-five, so I just try to make the most of it.”

Vanek said he enjoys playing alongside Smaagaard, and is happy he’s been able display the skill his teammates knew was there all along.

“Garrett showed he can move the puck as good as anyone,” Vanek said. “Just because he’s known as a fourth line player doesn’t mean he’s not skilled.”

Lucia was especially impressed with Smaagaard’s hard work against the Badgers. And as he has stressed to players throughout the year, those who work hard will be rewarded with ice time.

Smaagaard’s teammates appreciate the boost he gives the team by stepping up his role, creating scoring opportunities and making plays. The hard work carries off the ice.

“He’s a highly motivated kid, obviously,” teammate and Carlson School classmate Gino Guyer said. “He wants to make something of himself, whether it be in hockey or in work when he’s finished with school.”