Features | 2/11/2012 5:13:14 PM | Chris Ryndak
| Billy Dee Smith (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
If the National Lacrosse League handed out a Comeback Player of the Year Award, Billy Dee Smith might be the favorite to win it this season.
Returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season, the Bandits defenseman has had a strong 2012 campaign so far. He earned his first selection to the NLL All-Star Game earlier in the week and will be in the starting lineup for the East when the exhibition is played at First Niagara Center on Feb. 25.
“It’s definitely great to be back,” Smith said. “I think I got a little bit of that feeling after the first game. It’s great being back and being pretty healthy with the knee here.”
With the All-Star Game being held in Buffalo, the 2009 NLL Defensive Player of the Year will have the opportunity to have his friends and family make the trip to come and watch him. He’ll also be able to hear the familiar cheers of Banditland when he takes the floor.
“Just to be in front of your own fans in your own arena makes things a little more comforting,” he said. “I know a lot of guys who’ve been to the All-Star Game. I don’t know too many of them who have been able to have their family come and watch so it’s a definitely special for sure.”
Smith tore his ACL during the 2010 offseason while playing in the gold medal game of the World Lacrosse Championships in England in July 2010. He injured himself on his second shift of the game when he said he went to cut back to the net on a routine play. He planted his foot the same way he had planted it numerous times already that game, but on that last “innocent plant,” however, he felt his knee completely give out on him.
Being the first significant injury of his career, Smith may not have been prepared for the grueling rehab it was going to take to get him back on the lacrosse floor. He started his rehab four days after surgery and was forced to use crutches to get around.
“The surgery was, to say the least, pretty tough,” he said. “Probably the hardest I’ve ever gone through so whenever it’s time to go to the gym or to work out, I’m kind of like, ‘That’s easy compared to what I’ve gone through.’”
Smith played for the Six Nations Arrows this past summer in his first lacrosse action since the injury. He hit the floor seven months after his surgery, but says he didn’t start feeling like himself again until the middle of June. By July, he says he was close to 100 percent.
“I might have come back a little early. I was hobbling around pretty good out there,” Smith said.
He explained that he feels those games were extremely beneficial to him as he worked to get back into shape for the NLL season. Smith said he’s still working on regaining some of his quickness and agility but that he now feels like he’s right about where he left off all those months ago.
“I’m glad I played in the summer because I feel if I didn’t do it in the summer, I would’ve went through a lot of that come this winter, especially the mental aspect of it,” he explained. “You kind of go through a lot. Not trusting your ability and you go through all these different phases. As of now, I feel better than ever so it feels good.”
In five games with the Bandits this season, Smith has gathered 12 loose balls and racked up 24 penalty minutes. He scored his first goal of the season last weekend against Washington, his first tally since Feb. 27, 2010.
“It’s been awhile. I’m hoping to do a little more of it. I had a couple nice runs there and that’s something I definitely want to start doing more and more as the year goes on,” he said. “Hopefully I can get a couple more.”
Goals won’t be hard to come by in the All-Star Game. Last year, the East defeated the West, 30-26. Smith, a player known for his physical style, isn’t planning on making it easy for the West’s offense.
“It’s my first All-Star game, but I don’t think I have it in me to just let a guy run around me and start dangling the goalie,” Smith said. “I’ll definitely be playing some defense. I don’t know how aggressive I’ll be, but I’m not going to let anyone score on me, that’s for sure.”
Smith will be joined by forwards John Tavares and Luke Wiles, defenseman Chris White and goaltender Mike Thompson on the East roster. Tavares and Thompson were also named starters.