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Women's Hockey: Smith is a study in history

Monday, February 18, 2002

By Jimmy Golen, The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Karyn Bye is a forward on the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team and the keeper of a book of "Smithisms."

The collection of amusing and often puzzling sayings that Coach Ben Smith uses to motivate the players is growing daily at the Olympics, chock full of references to W.C. Fields and The Three Stooges and salty expressions befitting a man from the fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.

"You always say, 'Where's this going?' " captain Cammi Granato said. "You ponder it for a while, and then you figure it out."

Having also played under Smith in Nagano, when the Americans won the inaugural Olympic women's hockey gold medal, Granato and Bye are more familiar with his ways than some of their teammates. So they're not fooled by his self-deprecating style or the folksy aphorisms like, "The hay is in the barn, ladies," and others that brush up against the border of unprintable.

"He comes up with things like that all the time," Bye said. "But coach is one of the smartest people I've ever met."

So far in Salt Lake City, most of Smith's skills have been directed toward focusing the team on its next game through a preliminary round that posed few challenges. When he was asked about a potential gold medal matchup with Canada before a single game had been played, Smith reminded everyone what happened in the Super Bowl, when his hometown team won despite being 14-point underdogs.

"Our coach's favorite saying is 'P-A-T-S, Pats, Pats, Pats,' " defenseman A.J. Mleczko said. "People can expect one thing and an entirely different thing can happen."

History isn't just about hockey for Smith.

His father shared a room with John F. Kennedy at Harvard, later working on Kennedy's presidential campaign; when Kennedy won, Benjamin A. Smith II was appointed to complete his Senate term. Smith agreed not to run for re-election, making way for JFK's little brother Teddy.

The future hockey coach doesn't usually talk about his brushes with political greatness, though he has mentioned hanging around the Pentagon as a child, eating popcorn. Smith graduated from Harvard himself in 1968 and worked as an assistant coach at Yale and Boston University before becoming the head men's coach at Northeastern for five years.

At Boston, he was the "good cop" to the disciplinarian Jack Parker, once demonstrating a checking technique with a garbage can in the locker room between periods of a game against rival Boston College. The players weren't sure whether they were laughing with Smith or at him.

"I think that was the point," said Bernie Corbett, a manager on the Boston team at the time and now the team's radio broadcaster.

In 1996, Smith switched to the women's side -- becoming the first full-time coach of the U.S. women's national team. He led the team to the gold medal in Nagano and signed on for another go in Salt Lake City.

As expected, the Americans advanced to the medal round as the top seed in their group, winning three walkovers with one more planned in the semifinals before an anticipated gold medal rematch with Canada.

His team is led in scoring by 18-year-old Natalie Darwitz, who's still in high school. Sixteen-year-old Lyndsay Wall is one of the top defensemen; she hopes to get her driver's license this summer.

It's safe to say neither has ever seen a W.C. Fields movie.

"That's why you have people like Julie and Peter around, to decode me some times," Smith said of assistant coaches Julie Sasner and Peter Haberl.

"I don't have too much in common with some of the players except for hockey," Smith said. "But as hockey players, I like everything about them."

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