Eyes were opened when University of Wisconsin men's hockey center Craig Smith was chosen to play for Team USA in the World Championships last month.
That outfit is usually comprised of NHL and top minor-league talent, not college sophomores. That was especially true of Smith, a Madisonian who had never been tabbed for an international assignment by USA Hockey.
Smith proceeded to open more eyes in the prestigious International Ice Hockey Federation event. He was named one of the three best players for the Americans after accounting for three goals, three assists and six points in seven games. He was the No. 2 scorer for the U.S. behind former Badgers teammate Derek Stepan.
"He's a terrific prospect,'' said Paul Fenton, the assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators, the NHL club that drafted Smith in the fourth round in 2009.
Prior to the tournament, Smith outlined his intent to return to UW for his junior season instead of turning pro. Fresh off leading the Badgers with 19 goals, he said he had some things that still needed to get crossed off his collegiate to-do list.
Upon returning to Madison, Smith reiterated his plans to play another season at the college level. That's good news for the Badgers, who have already lost two underclassmen to the pros in defenseman Jake Gardiner and winger Jordy Murray.
"I made my decision before I left,'' Smith wrote in a text message. "That's what felt right in my heart.''