For the first time since 2002, someone other than P.K. O’Handley has been manning the bench this season for Waterloo Black Hawks. 27 games in to his tenure, Matt Smaby is just as eager to learn as he was on day one.
Smaby, an 11-year pro hockey veteran including a four-year stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning, is 13-12-1-1 as the Hawks’ head coach so far. Smaby believes he’s adjusting well to the USHL after coaching youth hockey last season, though he admits he’s still learning.
“It’s been a good learning experience for me and I think for our group as well,” said Smaby. “Reflecting back I think there’s a lot of things we’ve done well, but there are plenty of things to work on as far as our team game...I’m proud of the things that we’ve done well, but I’m also fully aware that we have a lot to work on.”
While O’Handley may not be on the bench anymore, he’s still around Young Arena. He transitioned this season into the role of President of Operations and makes himself available to Smaby.
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“He’s been a great resource and a great mentor,” Smaby said. “He’s always there if I have questions or need anything. We talk on occasion about hockey and life and where things are at. He’s a really good system of support for me as a coach new to the league. He’s been extremely valuable and helpful to me. I can’t thank him enough for all of the support he’s given me.”
Forward John Waldron, who has been with the Black Hawks since the 18-19 season, has noticed a difference in the team under Smaby.
“I think the (biggest difference) is the attitude around the guys,” Waldron said. “I think it’s a nicer environment. More supportive.”
There’s still 35 games left to see if that nicer, more supportive environment helps the Hawks back to the postseason. Their next game will come Friday at 7:05 p.m. on the road against the Sioux Falls Stampede (10-15-0-1, 21 points).