Passing the time during the early days of the pandemic was not easy - especially for young folks. For Quinnipiac Bobcats forward Ty Smilanic, it was a chance to turn his new vehicle into the car of his dreams.
Smilanic, who played for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, spent his two years with the squad commuting from about an hour away in Michigan in a Ford Edge, but there was another car on his mind the whole time.
"I always wanted a Jeep as my first car because I love working on cars and making them unique," Smilanic said. "Jeeps are probably the best for that, especially Wranglers because you can customize them in so many different ways. But it was unethical to have it those first two years, so once I was heading to college I asked my parents again and this time they said they'd think about it. So that was progress. Long story short I was able to get the Jeep and it was right at the beginning of quarantine so I started doing DoorDash, a lot of times with my girlfriend. I made a good amount of money and put it into my Jeep to deck it out."
Now in his second season with the Bobcats, Smilanic doesn't do many deliveries anymore.
"I would go 10 hours a day during quarantine and that's just a lot of driving - I kind of burnt myself out," he said. "I enjoyed it; there were some times when you'd be waiting at the restaurant for the food, or you're looking for a house that wasn't marked right and that was frustrating, but overall it was a good time."
Smilanic has forged through other challenges in his young career. After being taken in the third round of the 2020 draft by the Florida Panthers, the talented forward headed out to Connecticut to play for Quinnipiac, but with all the ECAC's Ivy schools dropping out during the early days of the pandemic, conference play was severely limited: The Bobcats ended up playing Colgate, Clarkson and St. Lawrence six times each during the regular season.
Now things are back to normal (well, as normal as can be) and they've been able to play schools like Yale and Brown already. Finding his way to Quinnipiac in the first place came down to fit for Smilanic.
"When I visited Quinnipiac I fell in love with the culture: every single guy cares about each other," he said. "And I kinda liked the idea they haven't won a national championship yet because hopefully I can be a big part of bringing one to Hamden, Connecticut."
Going straight to the Bobcats from the NTDP also gave the teenager a big challenge as he faced much older and stronger competition in conference.
"The ECAC is an older league and people may say it's not as skilled but it could honestly be the hardest in college hockey because so many games are 1-0, 2-1, so every single play in the game is crucial," Smilanic said. "It's intense; guys are bigger and stronger, so I've had to figure out ways to be successful in that league."
So far, he's found that success, earning ECAC All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman and continuing his solid offensive contributions as a sophomore. That also put him on the radar for Team USA's world junior squad this year and Smilanic impressed enough at final camp to snag himself a spot on the coveted team, something he doesn't take for granted.
"It's the best players in the country," he said. "So the competition was really high and I just tried to play tough, be strong on pucks and give myself the best chance of making the team. It's such a big tournament, I'm ready to fill whatever role they need whether it's PK or PP; I'm excited for any chance I'm given. And I'm excited to play in front of fans - especially the Canadian fans - and try to chase gold."
As the returning champs, expectations are high for Team USA and they'll need some of their new recruits to step up offensively since there's no Trevor Zegras or Cole Caufield available this season. But if Smilanic has proven anything over the past few years, it's that he knows how to deliver.