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Avon’s Ben Smith preparing for season opener with San Jose Sharks

Avon's Ben Smith is in his first training camp with the San Jose Sharks after four seasons with the Blackhawks.

Avon’s Ben Smith is in his first training camp with the San Jose Sharks after four seasons with the Blackhawks.

SAN JOSE – It was a bit jarring for Avon native Ben Smith to be traded last March by the Chicago Blackhawks to the San Jose Sharks but that is professional sports.

Now, Smith is preparing for his full season with the Sharks who are looking to get back to the NHL playoffs. San Jose had earned a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for 10 straight years before slipping last year to fifth in the Pacific Division and 12th in the Western Conference.

And Smith is taking nothing for granted. “I have to prove myself in training camp,” he said in Connecticut at a summer camp in August. “That is the biggest thing. I need to be ready, be prepared and stay healthy. I’m hungry to make a difference out there.”

This will be Smith’s third full season in the National Hockey League. He had a few cups of coffee with the Blackhawks in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It was in 2013 when Smith kept himself ready to play throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs and was inserted into the lineup for one game in the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins. The Blackhawks won the Cup and Smith got his name on the majestic trophy.

In 2013-14, he had 14 goals and 12 assists for the Hawks, who advanced to the Western Conference finals that season before being eliminated by Anaheim. A year ago, his scoring dropped a bit with just five goals and four assists in 61 games with Chicago before finishing out the season with 19 games with San Jose. For the season, he had seven goals and seven assists.

While the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, Smith got the chance to play with the U.S. national team at the world championships. He helped the Americans earn a bronze medal for the second time in three years with an 8-2 record.

Smith had the first American goal in the 5-4 overtime win over Slovakia and the first U.S. goal in the 3-1 quarterfinal win over Switzerland. He had 14 shots on goal and played about 10 minutes a game in his first appearance with Team USA and the national team. 

“Having that experience of playing on the national team and wearing that (U.S.) jersey was a lot of fun,” Smith said. “Our team had a bit of success. The biggest thing was to keep playing the game and get more experience in hockey.”

San Jose coach Peter DeBoer is running a upbeat training camp. “If we’re going to make mistakes, let’s make them being aggressive in preseason here so we can find out where we are,” he said.

Smith, 27, is ready to go. “Now, I’m getting a fresh start. I’m looking forward to it.”

San Jose opens the NHL campaign on October 7, visiting the Los Angeles Kings, at 10:30 p.m., EST. It will be televised on NBC Sports Network. The Sharks will make a three-game swing through New York and New Jersey with games at New Jersey (Oct. 16), the Islanders in Brooklyn (Oct. 17) and the Rangers at Madison Square Garden (Oct. 19).

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.

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