Waterloo, Iowa–In eight of the last 13 years, the first man to raise the Stanley Cup has been a former teammate of new Waterloo Black Hawks Head Coach Matt Smaby.
The Black Hawks revealed Smaby’s hiring on Tuesday evening. His experience in the game as a player brought him into close contact with some of the contemporary National Hockey League’s most renowned leaders, including Stanley Cup champion captains Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Steven Stamkos. In his own career, Smaby celebrated notable achievements as an amateur, climbed to the NHL, and was a productive player on the ice as recently as 2017. The 36-year-old’s coaching credentials already cover a wide spectrum of ages and ability levels, working on the bench in both the United States and abroad.
“I am extremely excited and humbled to be joining an organization with such rich tradition,” Smaby said. “There are so many positive aspects about Waterloo which make it a great place to play. I want to continue the success the organization has enjoyed, while making my own contribution to Black Hawk hockey. I look forward to getting to work.”
Smaby takes the reigns from P.K. O’Handley, who served as Waterloo’s head coach beginning in the 2002/03 season. During June, O’Handley announced his transition from the ice to serving solely as team president. In that capacity, O’Handley was an important figure in bringing Smaby to Waterloo.
“I would like to take this opportunity to formally welcome Matt and his family to the Cedar Valley,” O’Handley said, noting, “He checked every box and priority we had for our next head coach and demonstrated throughout an intensive hiring process that he stood out above the many candidates we considered.”
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Smaby’s abilities brought him to perennial hockey powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. As a member of the Sabres, he earned a USA Hockey national championship in 2003. Crosby was among the young skaters for that successful squad, on which Smaby served as captain. That summer, Smaby was chosen with the 41st overall selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second round of the NHL Draft.
Advancing to college hockey for the next three seasons, Smaby joined another routinely strong program, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. In two of his three NCAA campaigns, North Dakota qualified for the Frozen Four, finishing as national runners-up in 2005. Smaby appeared in 129 college games, producing six goals and 23 assists. During his third year with the program (which included his second trip to college hockey’s final weekend), Smaby served as captain, leading a roster which included Toews, then a freshman. The junior was recognized on the All-WCHA Third Team, as well as earning conference All-Academic Team honors.
Signing with the Lightning out of college, Smaby spent his first professional season in the American Hockey League. He debuted for Tampa Bay on October 4, 2007 versus the New Jersey Devils as the Lightning celebrated a 3-1 season opening win. Smaby played in 13 additional NHL games that winter. Beginning the following season, he counted Stamkos among his teammates as the 2008 number one overall draft pick joined the Lightning organization. The 2008/09 season was the most prolific of Smaby’s NHL career, as he appeared in 43 games with four assists. In total over parts of four seasons, Smaby took the ice on 122 occasions for the Lightning and notched six assists.
During the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons, Smaby played in the AHL for the Syracuse Crunch and Norfolk Admirals respectively. His career took a new turn in during the summer of 2013, when he joined HC Munich of the German Ice Hockey League. Smaby spent his final four seasons as a professional with the Red Bulls, helping the Bavarian club to DEL championships in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons. All totaled, he dressed for nearly 500 professional regular season games across all leagues and levels.
Smaby’s coaching career began with a homecoming to his alma mater. Prior to the 2017/18 college season, he started a two-year stint on the staff at North Dakota. By that time, the UND roster included former Waterloo Black Hawks Peter Thome, Zach Yon, Hayden Shaw, and Cameron Johnson. Simultaneously completing his degree in communications, Smaby’s return at North Dakota provided a springboard back to Europe, but this time behind the bench. In 2019/20 he was an assistant for the Salzburg Red Bulls in Austria’s top league. Stateside amid the coronavirus pandemic, last winter Smaby led the Grand Forks Youth Hockey Program. In that position, he had his first opportunity to succeed a premier USHL head coach: the vacancy in Grand Forks came after the departure of former Lincoln Stars stalwart Steve Johnson.
Smaby will move to Waterloo with his wife, Jenna, and his children, Sloane and Jack.
His first chance to see and work with Black Hawks players will be during the team’s upcoming Orientation Camp next month.