CEDAR PARK – CEDAR PARK – Gemel Smith made the most of a surprising opportunity in the Texas Stars 6-3 win against the San Antonio Rampage.
With Radek Faksa and Justin Dowling both out of the lineup with injuries, Smith was put on the first line between Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie. The 20-year-old rookie responded with a pair of goals on his new line, which he found out he’d be playing on when he arrived at the rink.
“I’ve never skated on a line with them, not even in practice or anything like that,” Smith said. “It was a great opportunity for me to play with them and it worked out for us.”
While Smith was almost a point-per-game player in junior hockey, he had struggled to find his role offensively and the back of the net in his first professional season.
That all started to turn around when Texas returned from the AHL’s holiday break. Smith scored his first professional goal in a loss to San Antonio on Friday, then helped anchor a reliable fourth line in Texas’ win against the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday.
On Sunday, he didn’t wait very long to make an impact.
Just 23 seconds into the game he intercepted a clearing pass by San Antonio and fired a one-timer over Rampage goalie Dan Ellis’ shoulder.
“It’s a great feeling, it helped me throughout the game,” Smith said of the goal. “It helped me get my confidence and it helped me loosen up.”
In the second period, Smith crashed the net hard after an initial shot by McKenzie and easily scored his second goal when he cashed in on a rebound to Ellis’ right side.
Smith also did the little things that helped him win a roster spot back in October, relying on a straightforward, aggressive fore-check and winning crucial face-offs in the defensive zone.
It opened up extra space for Ritchie and McKenzie, who each scored in the win as the top line combined for 12 of the Stars 40 shots on goal.
“He’s a great player to play with,” McKenzie said of Smith. “He thinks the game well and he’s got great boots out there. We where out there for the end of a shift with him in San Antonio (on Friday) before he scored, then he scored on his first shift tonight. So I guess he brought good luck to us tonight.”
Ritchie finished with a pair of goals, including an empty netter to ice the victory. It was his fifth goal of the weekend and moved him into the team lead with 11 this season.
Scott Valentine scored Texas’ other goal, his first of the season, on an assist from Matej Stransky.
Jussi Rynnas picked up his second straight win and stopped 37 shots in the victory, while Ellis stopped 25 shots for San Antonio.