The shy, quiet n…

Michael Rand

The shy, quiet native of Warroad, Minn., emerged Saturday night from the Gophers hockey team’s locker room with a wide grin on his face after his team had completed a sweep of previously undefeated North Dakota.
It was a grin from Wyatt Smith that hadn’t been seen in full sincerity for quite some time.
Amongst the distinct differences between Minnesota’s 3-2 win on Friday and 10-6 romp on Saturday were the similarities between the goals Smith scored each night. Both were important in terms of the games themselves and the sophomore’s career with the Gophers to this point.
After a disappointing freshman season in which he scored just four goals, Smith had what he labeled “a breakthrough weekend.”
Smith’s slap shot less than a minute into Friday night’s third period gave Minnesota a 3-1 lead and proved to be a key score when UND added its second goal of the game with nine minutes left.
“It was huge,” Gophers co-captain Casey Hankinson said of the goal. “And it was a nice goal — he top-shelved it.”
Smith followed up Friday night’s effort by scoring the always-important first goal of Saturday night’s game off a rebound of his own shot.
He had also scored in Minnesota’s series finale with Wisconsin last weekend, giving him a streak of three games in a row with a goal.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” said a relieved Smith. “Three in a row — it’s starting to be a habit. At least I’d like to.”
Last season, Smith scored his first goal in Minnesota’s series at Colorado College and then added another the following weekend, Oct. 27, when the Gophers hosted Alaska-Anchorage.
But after finding the net in Minnesota’s fourth and fifth games of the season, he didn’t score again until the team’s second-to-last game, when he pocketed two goals in a 5-1 win over Providence in the NCAA West Regional.
Smith said he had visions of last season when he scored a goal against Wisconsin and in the first game of this weekend’s series. Fortunately, he said, history didn’t repeat itself.
“I didn’t want that to happen again. Hopefully I started a trend — a goal a game. That wouldn’t bother me at all.”
It definitely wouldn’t bother Gophers coach Doug Woog, who said before the season started that he was counting on Smith to be a big contributor to the Gophers offense this year.
“I liked the way Wyatt Smith’s line played tonight,” Woog said after Saturday night’s game. “They really competed.”
Smith admitted he feels the additional burden this season after last year’s disappointment.
“Especially after last year, when I only had two goals in the regular season, I put added pressure on myself to be a point producer,” Smith said.
He also recognized that his breakout series could not have come at a better time for the Gophers, who had been struggling to score on a consistent basis. Saturday night’s 10-goal barrage resulted in a series sweep of North Dakota, which was undefeated going into the weekend.
And Smith is quick to say that he took a little extra satisfaction in beating UND, a school far closer to his hometown than Minnesota.
“Coming from up north, I was kind of in UND’s back yard. It’s fun to beat the Sioux,” he said. “I got offers (to play) from them, too. It was a tough decision, but it became an easy one when I came here.”