With a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals last June, the Chicago Blackhawks won their third championship in six seasons, creating a modern-day dynasty. Chicago’s Barry Smith ’72, the team’s director of player development, has been a vital part of the last two championships.
Smith is in his fifth season with the Blackhawks and his fourth as the team’s director of player development. He previously served as the club’s European development advisor and as a professional scout.
When asked how to pick a winning team, Smith is confident in his answer: “It takes a wide range of players, and we found the most important thing was a player’s mental makeup. That includes your character, attitude, and ability to compete, as well as being a good teammate. Those always came first, followed by game sense. Guys who process the game faster than others have a quicker reaction because they understand the game. Some players are good in practice because of their athleticism, but when the game comes, they can’t process and react, and that’s key.”
Smith has achieved success at nearly every level, having been part of other dynasties before arriving in Chicago. He spent six seasons as head ice hockey coach at Elmira College before breaking into the National Hockey League (NHL) with the Buffalo Sabres in 1986. From Buffalo, Smith went to Pittsburgh, winning two Stanley Cups as an assistant coach for the Penguins in 1991 and 1992.
After two seasons in Pittsburgh, Smith followed NHL hall of fame coach Scotty Bowman to Detroit. With the Red Wings, Smith served as assistant and associate head coach and helped lead the team to three Stanley Cup wins.
Smith’s international coaching stops included time as an assistant coach for Team USA in the 1991 World Cup of Hockey and as associate head coach at the 2007 Ice Hockey World Championship. He also helped coach Team Sweden at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 1998 Winter Olympics.
“I changed my role a bit from day-to-day coaching to player development,” said Smith regarding his current responsibilities with the Blackhawks. “I have a variety of players in a variety of stages on their transition to becoming professionals. It’s been really interesting taking a look at players’ games, including what they do well and what they’re missing. Then you have your second and third-year pros that we take a look at to see what we can do to get them up [to the NHL], or we assess what skills they have that make them valuable to another team. It’s been a different type of coaching with a more hands-on approach.”
After nearly 30 years at the professional level, Smith still looks back on his time at Ithaca College as a starting point for his success. A three-sport athlete for the Bombers, Smith participated in football, hockey, and lacrosse. He caught 46 career passes as a wide receiver, ranking fourth on the program’s all-time receptions list at the time of his graduation, while playing football for legendary coach Jim Butterfield. Inducted into the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992, Smith says the things he learned while competing as a Bomber have stuck with him to this day and have helped guide his accomplished career.
“The guys that I competed with on the football, hockey, and lacrosse teams taught me a lot. It was great competition. We didn’t have selfish guys, and everybody bought in. We shared responsibilities, roles, and time on the playing field. It was a tremendous experience in the sense that we all became hard workers and learned to play for the sake of the game.”