Minnesota Wilderness goaltender Matt Smith continues to wow people in his first season of Jr. hockey. While posting a 12-1-1 record since his first start with the team in January, Smith has played a big part in Minnesota’s recent success. And his efforts in helping his team has allowed him to be recognized by the NAHL as an individual.
Smith this week was named the league’s goaltender of the month for his performance during March. In 10 games played, the Fenton, MO, native stopped 236 of 253 shots faced for a .933 save percentage, 7-1-1 record, and 1.81 GAA.
The consummate teammate, Smith credits this award to his team’s renewed focus on defense. He said the coaching staff, specifically due to the guidance of assistant coach Scott Pionk, who was hired mid-season in December, has helped bring an immense improvement to team defense.
“He (Pionk) set us right,” said Smith. “If we’re going to succeed, we have to play defense, we can’t just play run-and-gun hockey all the time.”
General manager and head coach Dave Boitz, in a release by the NAHL, had high praise for his rookie netminder:
“Since joining our team in mid-January, Matt has been a steady force for our team. The best thing about Matt is that he makes every save he should make and then on most nights seems to make a spectacular save or two that ignites his teammates. He has also been a fantastic teammate to our other goalie Konrad and the rest of our team. We are excited to see what the future holds for Matt.”
In the same release, Smith, who before coming to the Wilderness started the season with the Springfield Jr. Blues and then went to the NA3HL’s Granity City Lumberjacks, added:
“I really focused on not letting the highs get too high and the lows get too low. You must keep your emotions in check because hockey is an incredibly emotional sport. I had to work incredibly hard to get back into the NAHL this year. The work ethic and resilience I had to create in Granite City in the NA3HL really prepared me to succeed at the NAHL level,” said Smith. “I think playing in the NAPHL for CarShield really helped me develop into the man and goalie I am today and prepare me for junior hockey. My goal the rest of this season is to try to help my team make the playoffs and hopefully win a Robertson Cup Championship.”
Smith, 19, becomes the third Wilderness netminder in team history to win NAHL goaltender of the month honors. Kasimir Kaskisuo was the first in November of 2013, and he was followed by Luke Kania for his performance in September of 2016.