An education in excellence
by Lucas Aykroyd|22 DEC 2018
After captaining Canada at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Russia, defenceman Ty Smith is shooting for gold on home ice at this year's World Juniors.
photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
Ty Smith got A grades in English, physics, and pre-calculus. He was named the 2017/18 WHL Scholastic Player of the Year. Now the star Spokane Chiefs defenceman is prepared to take more than an academic interest in winning gold for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver.

Team Canada head coach Tim Hunter, who has coached the Moose Jaw Warriors since 2014, is well aware of how keenly Smith applies himself. The 18-year-old native of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan was in on all three Spokane goals (1-2-3) in a 4-3 loss to Moose Jaw on 13 October.

On Friday at Victoria’s Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, Smith scored the final Canadian goal in a 6-1 exhibition romp over Slovakia, floating a high point shot past goalie Samuel Hlavaj in the third period.

“Ty is a real smart puck-moving D,” said Hunter. “Great goal tonight from the blue line. He’s got that ability to surf the blue line, find that shot through to the net. He does a good job on the power play. We’ve got a good mix of puck-movers and skill and real good defenders right now, and we’re happy with the group we have back there.”

Smith, who was drafted 17th overall this year by the New Jersey Devils, supplements his offensive prowess with leadership skills. His 73 points last season with Spokane were the second-most among WHL rearguards, and he currently leads all WHL D-men again with 39 points despite missing time due to his World Junior commitments. The smooth-skating 180-cm, 80-kg blueliner also captained Canada at his second IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Russia in April. 

Watch for Smith to play big minutes with a deep, talented defence that also features such 2018 first-round picks as Evan Bouchard of the OHL’s London Knights (10th overall, Edmonton Oilers) and Noah Dobson of the QMJHL's Acadie-Bathurst Titan (12th overall, New York Islanders).

We caught up with Smith after the victory over Slovakia.

How did you feel about your team’s performance?

I think we came out playing pretty well. We were playing pretty hard. We got the early lead, so that’s always good, and always the plan. We improved on our game since the Switzerland game [a 5-3 win]. I think that’s kind of what we’re looking for.

From your previous international experience, what have you learned about what it takes to produce in IIHF competition compared to the WHL?

There are a lot less games, obviously, compared to the Dub. It’s a long year. So if you’re struggling for a little bit, you can kind of slowly work your way out of a slump. But there’s not really much time to struggle here. It’s performance on demand. You have to gel well with your teammates to get the chemistry going.

How close is this group to establishing the right identity?

I think we’re getting better, obviously, since the start. But there’s still more work to do. We do have a lot of players that have a lot of speed and skill. That definitely helps us. Tim’s always on us to play fast and get pucks going up ice as fast as we can. I think we have the guys to do it. It’s good to see.

Playing in Vancouver is nothing new to you, even prior to the WHL. You spent 2014/15 at the Delta Hockey Academy.

My second year of bantam hockey – I had a great year that year. I learned a lot and met a lot of new people. I billeted in Langley and went to school in Tsawwassen. So I’ve kind of been all around Vancouver, I guess. It’s a great place to be. It was lots of fun that year.

It’s a great program Delta has, run by Ian Gallagher. It was great for me to go there and develop. I spend my summers there now because of how great the experience was for me. I go down and train with Ian in Delta there. It was good for me. I guess I feel like it’s a bit of a hometown tournament for me. And anywhere in Canada, the fans are so great and so supportive. We’re thankful to have the tournament here in Canada and really excited about it.

You also worked with retired Czech forward Jaroslav “Yogi” Svejkovsky at the Academy. Like you, he was drafted 17th overall – by Washington, in 1996. What did you learn from his experiences?

He’s a pretty humble guy, so he didn’t like to talk about himself too much. But definitely the skills part of it, I learned a ton from him. We were fortunate to have him as our head coach and our skills coach. I learned a lot about how to play the game right and how to develop my game into playing at not only a [WHL] level, but also the NHL level.

Working out with Brendan Gallagher and Troy Stecher this summer, what impressed you about the way they go about their business?

They work really hard. It’s great to see. Brendan’s a big role model for me. He opened up his house to me. I lived with him throughout the summer. He’s got a little guesthouse on his property. I stayed there and we hung out during the days a little bit. He’s a great guy for me to be around when it comes to work ethic and all the right habits away from the gym and rink. Those guys, the way they work every day, it’s incredible to see. It’s something I can definitely follow and try to bring to my game.

Coming to this team, did you know that Tim Hunter led the NHL in penalty minutes twice, with 361 in 1986/87 and 375 in 1988/89?

I’ve kind of heard that just because he’s a coach in the WHL. Brooksie [fellow Team Canada defenceman Josh Brook of the Moose Jaw Warriors] told me about that, as he has him all year. He’s obviously a tough guy, but he’s a great coach. He’s been good so far.

What are your favourite memories from watching past World Juniors?

It’s hard to pick! I’ve watched the tournament ever since I can remember, every year, either with my buddies or my family. Probably the one that would stand out is when [Jordan] Eberle tied the game late [against Russia in the 2009 semi-final]. That was unreal. I was at one of my buddies’ houses, and I think I was on an atom hockey team at the time. So we were all pretty excited about that. It was fun.

So far, your hockey career has taken you to places like Norway, Slovakia and Russia. What stands out to you from your travels?

It’s definitely been a lot of fun and a great experience for me to be able to travel the world and go all the way over to Europe, things like that. Probably the coolest one was the 2016 Youth Olympics in Norway. That was a good time. It was also my first experience with Hockey Canada. So it was special.

Looking beyond these World Juniors, you signed a three-year entry-level contract with New Jersey in August. Sami Vatanen and Will Butcher both play a somewhat similar style to yourself. What does that tell you in terms of your hopes of making the NHL soon?

They’re not big guys. Sami’s a little bit tougher and meaner. But the way Butcher sees the game and thinks the game and the plays he makes, it’s great to see. They value that there. So that’s something I see as a positive. The coach, John Hynes, seems really fair and loves hard work and skill. Anybody could make the team any year, so it’s definitely a good place to be.