Maddison Smiley making an impact in new role for UMass hockey

By Anthony Chiusano

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(Daily Collegian/Robert Rigo)

(Daily Collegian/Robert Rigo)

The Massachusetts hockey team has dealt with its fair share of injuries this season.

With top offensive threats like Ray Pigozzi, Steven Iacobellis and Troy Power all missing clusters of games at different points of the season, the depleted Minutemen (10-20-2, 5-15-1 Hockey East) have constantly looked for stopgap options, often natural defensemen, to suit up on the offensive end.

While blue liners Mike Busillo and Brennan Baxandall were called on earlier in the season to accept this challenge, the newest player to embrace the role is freshman Maddison Smiley.

Playing in his 20th game of the season, and his fifth straight as a forward, Smiley recorded his first goal of his collegiate career in UMass’ 2-1 overtime victory on Senior Night last Saturday against Providence College.

The goal came in the second period of a then-scoreless game while the Minutemen were taking advantage of a delayed penalty call.

“It was like a monkey off the back,” Smiley said of his first goal. “I knew I would score at some point in the season, I just didn’t think it would take this long. But it was a really good feeling and it was just really good to get it off my back.”

Aside from the milestone in his new role, Smiley asserted his defensive presence over the weekend, making several hits on Providence skaters in the open ice. Coming off a disappointing overtime loss the previous night, Smiley noted that he saw these hits as an opportunity to build some momentum heading into Saturday’s affair.

“I was just trying to get the boys going and get some energy,” Smiley said. “It was Senior Night so I was trying to get as much momentum as we could when I finally hit the ice. I found getting some body was the best way to show that.”

UMass coach John Micheletto praised Smiley for his willingness to adjust to a different position, adding that it has helped relieve the issue of ongoing injuries.

“Versatility is a great thing,” Micheletto said. “Where we are in the season, he has proven that he can be an effective player at forward, which gives us a lot of options.

“Without really blinking an eye, he’s seamlessly been able to transition from one to another back and forth.”

Forward was not a totally new position for Smiley to pick up however, as he played a few games there for the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits prior to coming to Amherst.

“Through junior (hockey), I played forward for a few games in the playoffs in some big situations, so it wasn’t huge to change,” Smiley said. “The speed was a lot different, there’s a lot more skating. But I didn’t find it as difficult as I think most players would.”

Smiley’s collegiate debut at forward came on Feb. 7 against UMass Lowell, one day after Power departed a game against Northeastern after being elbowed in the head. As Power was forced to sit out the following weekend’s two-game set, Smiley continued to see action on the attack.

But after Power’s return to the lineup this past weekend, the Minutemen’s revolving door of injuries continued to provide Smiley with quality minutes. He dressed for injured Steven Guzzo last Friday and, once Guzzo returned Saturday, he filled in for Dominic Trento.

“He’s stepped up big time,” Guzzo said. “He’s playing well and deserves to be in the lineup because of where he’s at right now.”

Guzzo said that the biggest difference in Smiley’s play last weekend was a sense of confidence that came with increased playing time.

“Obviously he wasn’t playing forward the whole season and it takes a couple of games to adjust,” Guzzo said. “I know I wouldn’t be able to adjust to defense as quick as he adjusted to forward.”

Micheletto said that whether Smiley continues to see action at forward will depend on injury updates made later this week. While Trento still nurses a lower-body injury, Patrick Lee left Saturday’s game in the second period.

Despite this uncertainty, Smiley said that he’s just focusing on continuing to provide energy for UMass, whether it be on offense or defense.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing right now and I think the most I could do is just continue to accept the role and play my game,” Smiley said.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.