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Regular playing time music to Ben Smith’s ears

Chicago Blackhawks' Ben Smith (28) battles for puck against Nashville Predators' Craig Smith (15) as  goalie PekkRinne (35) looks

Chicago Blackhawks' Ben Smith (28) battles for the puck against Nashville Predators' Craig Smith (15) as goalie Pekka Rinne (35) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Sunday, March 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: CXA110

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The facts: 7 p.m., CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: April 26, 2014 6:17AM

Ben Smith’s dad is a composer and a professor of composition at the University of Hartford. His mom, a former concert pianist, teaches piano at a girls prep school in Connecticut. His oldest brother is a professional oboist, touring the country. His uncle is the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Smith played guitar and trombone growing up. And though he is sheepish about admitting it, he sang bass in high school, too. So if national-anthem singer Jim Cornelison gets a last-minute bout of laryngitis, the Blackhawks can turn to the bench for a replacement.

‘‘Oh, I hope not,’’ Smith said with a laugh. ‘‘Hopefully, they’ll get someone else to do that.’’

Heck, why not? It’s about the only role Smith hasn’t filled with the Hawks. From shutdown fourth-line winger and penalty-killer to his new role as the front-of-the-net presence on the power play to his recent stint as Patrick Kane’s center, Smith — who made the team out of training camp largely
because he would have had to clear waivers to be sent back to Rockford — has established himself as one of coach Joel Quenneville’s most versatile and reliable weapons.

‘‘Benny started off all right, but I’ve seen a real nice progress to his individual game all year long,’’ Quenneville said.

The culmination of that progress was his surprise shot at filling the long-standing void at second-line center. Smith made the most of it, posting a goal and an assist in a victory against the Detroit Red Wings and winning 11 of 15 faceoffs in his two full games in that spot. It was the chance Smith had been waiting his whole career for.

Then came Kane’s knee injury, and Smith’s big opportunity was gone. He was dropped back down to the third line with Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin.

‘‘It’s a little frustrating or disappointing, I guess,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But injuries happen. It’s tough for our team — not just for me, but for
everyone — that Patrick’s not playing right now. You never really know what’s going to happen. It was great to have that opportunity to play with him, and hopefully . . . it possibly could happen again. But, for me, it’s always kind of been game by game.’’

Game by game, year after year. Since winning two national championships in four years at Boston College, Smith patiently has waited his turn. At the end of his first season in the minors, Smith was called up for the 2011 playoffs and scored three goals in a seven-game loss to the Vancouver Canucks. But it wasn’t the breakthrough moment he hoped for. He played only 13 games with the Hawks in 2011-12 and only one last season before
becoming a last-minute replacement for Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final — enough to get his name etched on the Cup.

Now, at 25 — four months older than Kane, three months younger than Jonathan Toews — and at the end of his second NHL contract, Smith finally is the every-game NHL player he expected to be. Smith, who credited his love of the Hartford Whalers for inspiring him to play hockey, said he never doubted he would get there.

‘‘If there ever was that much doubt, then it never would have happened,’’ he said. ‘‘You just have to believe that whatever you go through, if you keep pushing and working hard, that it’s going to work out in the end.’’

NOTE: The Hawks signed University of New Hampshire defense-
man Trevor van Riemsdyk, the younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs star James van Riemsdyk, to a two-year contract that starts next season. He had 16 goals and 59 assists in 102 college games.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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