Cedar Rapids RoughRiders center Nathan Smith comes north from Florida to further hockey career

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CEDAR RAPIDS — You have to consume his statistics with some context.

Nathan Smith played 13 hockey games for Mitchell High School in the Tampa, Fla., area last year. He scored 21 goals and added 23 assists.

That was nothing compared to the season before, when Smith played 15 games for Mitchell, piling up 41 goals and 45 assists. That’s a cool six point-per-game average.

“The high school hockey down there is just ridiculously bad,” said Smith, a first-year center for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, who played Friday night at Madison and host the Capitols on Saturday night at 7. “It doesn’t challenge you at all. Our coach told us to start using opposite sticks because it’s so bad.”

Imagine that. Being a left shot, but dominating so much, you play with a right-handed stick.

“High school hockey down there is nowhere near the level of this hockey. Neither is the U18 AAA,” said Smith, who also played Midget hockey for a traveling team in Florida last year. “There’s definitely a big difference. The speed, in particular, is a lot faster. I feel like I’ve done OK (adjusting). The speed of the game is just something I’m going to have to get used to. I think I’m doing all right with that.”

The 20-year-old has been part of an effective first forward line for the Riders, putting up three goals and six assists in C.R.’s first nine games. Marek Valach has been the left winger on that line, with various guys being tried on the right side.

Valach was brought in over the summer from Slovakia. Smith was not taken in last spring’s United States Hockey League Entry Draft, Phase II, making an impression and eventually the team with strong performances at C.R.’s tryout camp and summer camp.

“I actually liked it,” Smith said, about going undrafted. “That allowed me to make a choice of where I wanted to go. I knew this was a good place to be. Coach (Mark) Carlson is a good coach. He is hard on his guys, but he makes people better people.”

“He’s a talented player, worked hard this summer,” Carlson said. “He’s learning every day, getting better every day. It looks like he’s got the opportunity to be a very good player if he’s willing enough to work at it.”

Carlson was asked to give a scouting report on Smith.

“He can really skate, has good hockey sense,” Carlson said. “He can also set guys up. A very versatile player.”

This versatile player has committed to play college hockey beginning next year at Minnesota State. A Tampa kid braving the winters of Mankato, Minn.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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