Craig Smith continues to use the larger ice surface of European hockey rinks to distance himself from the offensive struggles that plagued him throughout the 2012-13 season.
The Nashville Predators forward had five assists Thursday in the United States’ 8-3 quarterfinal victory over Russia at IIHF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
The U.S. will play Switzerland in a semifinal Saturday at Stockholm, Sweden.
Smith assisted on goals by Paul Stastny (twice), Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba and David Moss. The last three came on the Americans’ final three goals, all in a span of 1:56 of the third period. The first came at 11:53 of the first period, the first goal of the game and the one that put the U.S. in front to stay.
“I think we were making plays out there,” Smith said. “I thought our line did a good job of moving our feet and getting pucks to the net. We were supporting well. All three of us were making great plays as well as the defense.”
At the start of Thursday’s quarterfinals three players were tied for the tournament lead in assists with six apiece. Smith’s five were one more than he had in the seven preliminary round contests.
Through eight games he now is the second-leading scorer for Team USA with 12 points and the tournament leader in assists with nine.
He had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 44 NHL games with Nashville.
Most European rinks are 10 feet longer and 13 feet wider than those in North America. For a player such as Smith, who is an elite skater, all that room can make a big difference.
Still, in two previous appearances for the national team at the World Championships he had just three goals and five assists in 11 contests.
The semifinal will pit Smith against Nashville teammate Roman Josi, whose eight points (three goals, five assists) tie him for Switzerland’s team lead.
Josi’s power play goal at 13:08 of the second period Thursday was the game-winner in Switzerland’s 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic.
The 22-year-old defenseman had one goal and three assists in 16 World Championships contests over the previous three years.