When one door closes, another opens.
It was a disappointing end to the season for UMass-Lowell. The River Hawks had won the Hockey East Tournament and were ranked fourth in the country, but they fell short of reaching the Frozen Four, losing to Notre Dame in overtime of the Northeast Regional Final.
But opportunity presented itself to C.J. Smith and the junior decided to skip his senior year and sign with the Buffalo Sabres. The forward was among those also making the leap from college hockey to the pros. He joined the Sabres at practice on Thursday. After the team was off on Friday, he is expected back at practice Saturday and should make his pro debut Sunday when the Sabres host the New York Islanders in KeyBank Center.
"He's always been able to score but I think he's developed his 200-foot game," UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. "It's not something that came easily. He worked on his play away from the puck and once he continued to work hard on his two-way game, his offense improved.
"His biggest asset is his passion for the game. He loves to play. He seems to get more consistent every year. He's improving with every year and that's a good sign that his upside is yet to be determined."
Of course, Bazin wished he one more season to help Smith develop that upside, but again, the name of the game is seizing opportunities.
"I think from the standpoint of a college coach, you always want the kid to come back and finish a degree and get 30 goals," Bazin said. "But we wish him well. I don't know a lot about Buffalo, but they have a lot of young talent and I think it's a terrific fit. I think C.J. will grow with the organization and be able to be a strong asset."