When Nash Smith tried out for the Moncton Flyers two years ago, he didn’t
make it past the first round of cuts.
The forward was undersized and underskilled. His heart wasn’t in it.
Fast-forward to this season and the 17-year-old is the heart of the Flyers,
who topped the New Brunswick-Prince Edward Island Major Midget Hockey
League in the regular season, claimed the New Brunswick portion of the
league title and are competing for a national championship at the 2018
TELUS Cup in Sudbury.
From zero to hero, that’s quite the transformation for Smith.
“In Grade 10 I was 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds and this year I went into camp
at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, that helped a lot,” laughs Smith. “I didn’t
have the skill to make it when I was 15; I had a shooting gallery in my
basement at home and I didn’t even use it. I didn’t really have the desire
to get better.”
Getting cut is a humbling experience. Smith took the feedback given and
joined his high school team, the MacNaughton Highlanders. He scored 14
goals and had 25 points that season, but his confidence was still low. When
Flyers tryouts rolled around the following season, Smith didn’t even go.
A second successful season with the Highlanders followed in 2016-17, in
which Smith finished sixth in league scoring with 26 goals and 39 points.
The 16-year-old was named to the Eastern Conference High School Hockey
League’s second all-star team, and, surprise, surprise, as his work ethic
improved, so did his confidence.
It isn’t commonplace for 17-year-olds who have never played AAA hockey to
make the team out of tryouts, but Smith was lethal last fall during camp.
Moncton head coach John DeCourcey was blown away.
“He scored goals in training camp, he scored goals in practice, he scored
goals in scrimmages, he scored goals in exhibition games; he was scoring
every day and he made it impossible to cut him. Eventually I realized we
had to put this kid on the team. He earned it.”
That was definitely the right decision.
Smith led the Flyers in goals with 21 and finished second in team scoring,
14th in the NBPEIMMHL, with 31 points.
“It was an adjustment for him at first, but he’s got a great shot and a
great release,” says DeCourcey. “Some guys are just natural goal-scorers.
He had to work on the defensive side of the game to become a more rounded
player, but he did and I give him credit.”
Classic late bloomer?
“Absolutely,” chuckles DeCourcey. “And he’s having a great time.”
A great time now, counters Smith. The jump from high school hockey to AAA
was eye-opening and were it not for his mental maturity, this year may not
have been as sweet as it was.
“We lost an early game to Charlottetown and I realized the game was a lot
faster in AAA, the speed was an adjustment,” says Smith. “It was tough.
You’ve got to bear down and work your hardest at all times.”
The lifestyle change that accompanied Major Midget hockey also took some
getting used to for Smith.
“There’s quite a big difference from practicing a couple times a week to
being on the ice six days a week, with training, too. It has pushed me, and
you get in much better shape. Practices are hard. It’s a great challenge.”
As a 17-year-old, Smith will graduate from AAA hockey at the end of this
season and he hopes to play for a Junior A team or get invited to a QMJHL
camp next year – “but before that I need to get stronger and get my speed
up to pace.”
You have a TELUS Cup to win as well, right?
“That’s true! It’s the biggest tournament of my life. I can’t wait to get