Wranglers Smith recalls his Dartmouth years

I had read that Dartmouth, the little Ivy League school in New Hampshire with the big academic tradition, had sent 120 of its athletes to the Winter Olympics over the years. And though Dartmouth was founded in 1769, that still seemed like a lot.

I also had read that Rob Smith, who stands in front of the opposing goalie on Wranglers power plays — and gets his ankles slashed by the opposing goalie’s big stick, and gets cross-checked in the face by the opposing goalie’s big defensemen — played college hockey at Dartmouth.

That seemed reason enough to check out Sunday’s Wranglers game against the Colorado Eagles at Orleans Arena, which started at 11:59 p.m. It was the annual Midnight Circus game.

Late in the third period, as Rob Smith was being cross-checked in the face by one of the Colorado goalie’s big defensemen, he reached his stick out on the way down and redirected the puck into the net, giving Las Vegas a 2-0 lead.

What seemed like a few seconds later — it could have been longer, because at 2:30 a.m., time and the penalty-kill unit tend to stand still — the Wranglers scored another goal to make it 3-0.

By then, the hula-hoop twirler from Argentina probably had left the building.

At 3:30 a.m., or thereabouts, Rob Smith and I still were in the building, in the bowels of it, chatting about Dartmouth.

Smith knows a lot — he went to Dartmouth, after all — but he did not know that Dartmouth had sent all those athletes to the Winter Olympics. He said he was proud of them. He also was proud of that goal in the third period.

“When was the last time you scored a goal at 2:27 a.m.?” I asked.

“I can’t even remember the last time I scored a goal at the regular time,” Smith said with a laugh.

That goal in the third period was Smith’s third this season and his first since Nov. 11. Sometimes it’s difficult to put the biscuit in the basket when the opposing goalie is slashing your ankles with his big stick and the team hasn’t been clicking on the power play.

But Smith has a degree in sociology from Dartmouth, and that’s something I and Tie Domi will never have. He also had a small abrasion on the bridge of his nose. I didn’t have one of those, either, because I have found that hockey crowds on Midnight Circus night almost always are in a jovial mood, and you can pretty much say whatever you want in the stands without fear of reprisal.

You can even say “Harvard sucks” if you want, and get a laugh out of Rob Smith. However, you may not want to say that in front of his teammate Brendan Rempel, who played four years for the Crimson and was graduated from Harvard in 2013.

Dartmouth has 12 alums and current student-athletes — in the Ivy League, the “student” always comes before the hyphen and the “athlete” — in this year’s Winter games. Harvard has four. Still, you might not want to say that in front of Rempel.

Smith played for the Big Green from 2006 through 2010 and knew Andrew Weibrecht at Dartmouth, the Alpine skier who won the silver medal in the men’s Olympic Super-G on Sunday.

“I have been following the Canadians on (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), said Smith, who grew up in Brooks, Alberta, a little dot on the map that has oil fields and very few Ivy League graduates, “and his picture popped up.”

“It’s awesome to see someone you’ve met, and been able to interact with, have international success. Man, that’s a huge international stage.”

Dartmouth is known for its skiers — and also for its senators and representatives, and its Pulitzer Prize winners, and for Pro Bowl kicker Nick Lowery, and for Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, Dartmouth class of 1925 — and won the national championship in skiing during Smith’s freshman year.

Dartmouth sent four Alpine skiers to the land of Vladimir Putin and stray dogs, three cross-country skiers, two biathletes and one freestyle mogul skier. The only nonskier representing Dartmouth is Gillian Apps, who plays hockey for Canada.

The announcers at Monday’s Canada vs. Switzerland game said Gillian Apps is the Dartmouth women’s team all-time leader in penalty minutes. So she might not be the ideal date for Winter Carnival.

Rob Smith said Winter Carnival is a pretty big deal at Dartmouth. It was founded in 1911 to promote winter sports at the little college with the big academic tradition in Hanover, N.H. It’s the highlight of the winter term. It’s way more fun than defending the back door against Princeton.

“A lot of alums come down and they have a polar bear swim and we usually play a hockey game and there’s a big igloo — a big sculpture — they build in the middle of the campus,” Smith said. “So that’s pretty neat, and they have a different theme every year. People do different things on campus, which is nice.”

But in at least one way, when you take away the ivy from those hallowed halls, Winter Carnival at Dartmouth isn’t all that different from a midnight hockey game in Las Vegas with a circus.

“Yeah,” said Rob Smith, Dartmouth 2010, with a chuckle. “It’s another reason for the students to drink, probably.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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