Chris Ratzloff doesn’t mince words when it comes to Garrett Smith.
Ratzloff, the Rochester Grizzlies head coach, has a certain affinity for Smith both as a person and as a hockey player.
“If you ask ‘what’s a perfect teammate?’ Garrett is that guy,” Ratzloff said.
Smith, an Eden Prairie native, is the type of player every coach hates to see leave his team and the type of player every coach loves to see come through his doors.
And while Smith, a captain for the Grizzlies this past season, his second with the team, is walking out of Ratzloff’s program, the Grizzlies coach is happy to know Smith has a great destination awaiting him.
Smith announced Thursday that he has committed to play college hockey at NCAA Division III St. John’s University in Collegeville.
“He’s just a great kid,” Ratzloff said. “He shows up, always has a good attitude, will do anything for his teammates. He’s very selfless, always puts the team first. He’s the kind of kid we wish all our players would be. We had a lot of guys like that this year. Our group was special that way.”
Smith was a huge part of that group. The son of long-time Eden Prairie boys high school hockey coach Lee Smith, Garrett Smith came into his own during his two seasons as a forward with the Grizzlies.
He helped the team win back-to-back North American 3 Hockey League Central Division championships and was a leader on this season’s team that reached the league’s championship game, the Fraser Cup.
A talented playmaker, Smith led Rochester with 43 assists this season and was second on the team with 56 total points in 46 games for the 41-7-1 Grizzlies. Smith played much of the season on a line with Dylan Schneider and Hunter Wilmes, after playing most of last season with veterans Peyton Hart and Matt DeRosa.
DeRosa committed to St. John’s on Tuesday.
“I give coach Ratzloff a lot of credit,” said Smith, who finished his two-year Grizzlies career with 92 points in 89 games. “He really pushed me right away. He gave me the responsibility to go play with Matt and Peyton last year. I learned from them, then coach broke me off this year and put me on a line with Dylan and Hunter, two other great veterans.”
Smith said his decision came down to three MIAC schools, with St. John’s ultimately winning out for many reasons, including it being just more than an hour away from his family in Eden Prairie. Smith said his grandmother, who lives in Prior Lake, is his biggest supporter and rarely misses a game.
“That was a big thing for me,” he said. “I want my dad to be able to watch me play … and my family being so close. My grandma, she’s really important to me and will be happy I’m staying close.”
Just as he did with the Grizzlies, Smith plans to make a quiet entrance to St. John’s and allow his work ethic and play to speak for him. He proved himself on the ice as a rookie in Rochester, which led to a bigger leadership role this past season.
“I’ll do whatever they need me to do,” he said. “If they need me to, as a first-year guy, I might be a fourth- or fifth-line guy, but I’ll compete my hardest and practice and earn that respect.
“You don’t go in as a young guy voicing your opinions right away. You gain respect on the ice, go compete your hardest every day. When you do that, you can voice your opinions more and become more of a leader.”
Smith is the sixth player from the 2020-21 Grizzlies to make a college commitment, joining DeRosa, Peyton Hart (Wisconsin-Stout), Schneider (Augsburg), Micah Gernander (Gustavus) and Joey Fodstad (Concordia).
Smith’s consistency may be his best attribute. He recorded a point in 34 of 49 games this season for Rochester, and had at least a point in seven of nine playoff games.
“His awareness is a lot better than most players at this level. His hockey IQ is high,” Ratzloff said. “He’ll get up there and he’ll work hard like he did here and those coaches will say to each other ‘how do we keep this guy out of the lineup?’”
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GRIZZLIES COLLEGE COMMITMENTS
NCAA DIVISION III
Seth Bacon (2018-19, Bethel ); Mathias Backstrom (2019-20, Nichols); Matt DeRosa (2018-21, St. John's); Joey Fodstad (2018-21, Concordia); Micah Gernander (2020-21, Gustavus); Hunter Hall (2018-19, New England College); Porter Haney (2018-20, Gustavus); Peyton Hart (2018-21, Wisconsin-Stout); Jesper Hofling (2019-20, Gustavus); Michael Heitkamp (2019-20, UW-Stout); Zak Justice (2019-20, Rivier University); Luke McKinch (2019-20, Hope College); Noel Parker (2019-20, St. Olaf); Dylan Schneider (2019-21, Augsburg); Garrett Smith (2019-21, St. John's); Vlad Sorokin (2018-19, UW-Stout).
Erik Evans (2018-19, Iowa State); Kory Potach (2018-19, Grand Canyon University).