Lincoln Stars forward Spencer Smith has a chip on his shoulder.
It's not from shoulder surgery that halted his 2019-20 USHL season early, even before the season was ultimately canceled by COVID-19. It's to prove he belongs.
Smith suffered a nagging injury in September last season after he scored five goals in 34 games. Flash forward to the last seven days and the St. Catharines, Ontario, native has three goals in the Stars' (3-5-1) last three tilts.
Oct. 9 was the first day Smith could return to full contact on the ice, well after Chris Michael took over as Stars general manager and head coach, and after the Stars hosted a camp in August for nearly 160 players looking for a roster spot.
“Coming in from last year I wanted to have a bigger role here, for sure,” Smith said. “Improve myself and prove the coaches right that I deserve that bigger role. Keep on playing with a chip on my shoulder, being confident with the puck and never doubt myself when I'm out there.”
Though Smith did not participate at the August camp, nor had he played in nearly four months, his character and worth helped him secure a spot on Lincoln's 25-man roster.
“This league is a second-year league,” Michael said. “And what I mean by that is guys that come into their second year are usually more ready, because they know what to expect. They've been through the league, they know the buildings that they are playing in and they know how to travel. How to prepare themselves away from the rink to prepare to play on the ice.
“Spence is the ultimate team guy that he cares way more than him getting points or accolades as an individual. He cares about our team.”
Smith has appeared in eight of the Stars' nine games this season, and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I finally feel like I'm fully healthy,” he said. “I felt like I was fully healthy when I got here, but it was just a matter of time getting back into things. Getting back into the groove (of) being on the ice every single day and being in the weight room every single day."
But it was not the post-surgery layoff Smith alluded to that helped him find his current scoring fashion.
“After that two-week break for us being unfit to play (due to COVID-19), it made me reset and think about what I was doing wrong and what I could possibly do right to create chances for myself,” Smith said. “It's been working out for the best right now and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Smith's first goal of the season came on an empty-net goal last Saturday in the Stars' first game at the Ice Box, a 5-2 victory against Tri-City. It was one he was not expecting, and it came on a pass from captain Stanley Cooley.
“It was an empty net, I thought he was going to go for his first USHL career goal,” Smith said. “(Cooley) got his first goal (Thursday in Lincoln's 3-1 victory at Tri-City). Everything comes back and you get rewarded whenever you are unselfish.