Minnesota State men’s hockey freshmen Nathan Smith and Lucas Sowder have known each other for a long time.
Florida is not the State of Hockey, so when you’re two of the better players your age in the Tampa Bay area, you’re probably going to gravitate toward each other.
“We have some good chemistry,” Smith said. “I’ve played with him since I was 6. We started out with roller hockey, and, up until juniors, we’ve been playing together all our lives. We always planned to go to college together one day.”
The pair traded in their wheels for blades when they were 11.
“It’s been good ever since,” Smith said.
That includes their first games with the No. 2-ranked Mavericks (3-0-1).
Sowder has at least one point in each game and leads the team with seven. He had a goal and two assists in Friday’s 4-4 tie against North Dakota and an assist in Saturday’s 2-1 victory.
Smith, a third-round NHL draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets and the preseason pick for WCHA rookie of the year, had to wait one weekend to make his much-anticipated collegiate debut because of an ankle injury But he immediately impressed, compiling four points, including a goal, on Friday.
With senior Parker Tumoie nursing an injury during the Mavericks’ season-opening series against Arizona State, Sowder was put on the top line with captain Marc Michaelis and had a three-point weekend.
Tuomie went back to his spot with Michaelis against North Dakota, and, with Smith cleared to play, the Mavericks’ coaches decided to pair the Floridians together — Smith at center and Sowder at left wing.
“(They’re) from the same neck of the woods, and there’s some chemistry there,” coach Mike Hastings said. “(Associate head coach) Todd Knott brought it up as we were going through the week on some line combinations. He said, ‘Hey, what do you think about putting Sowder and Smitty together?’ So I listened, and it was a good decision.”
Playing with junior right wing Walker Duehr, the line dominated the Fighting Hawks on Friday, racking up eight points — seven from the two rookies. Smith also won 20 of 29 faceoff attempts in the series.
“I just think they’re smart hockey players, and they don’t panic with the puck,” Hastings said. “They’re smart defensively away from the puck, which, usually you see with young hockey players, is a little bit of a struggle.”
Hastings said that line will stay together on Friday night when the Mavericks begin a WCHA series at Alabama Huntsville. At about 10 hours away, Huntsville is the closest college hockey town to the Floridians’ homes.
Smith and Sowder were teammates at Mitchell High School in Florida where they put up monster numbers before going their separate ways for junior hockey.
Sowder went to Wenatchee, Washington, to play in the British Columbia Hockey League, where he racked up 175 points in 173 games (including playoffs) over three seasons. Smith went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to play in the United States Hockey League, where he had 101 points in 114 games over two seasons.
Their hope to be reunited on a college team worked out perfectly.
“We didn’t talk about a specific school,” Smith said. “We just talked about going together. Minnesota State was one of the top schools that was recruiting both of us.”
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato