Greg Smith delivered the goods in his final of junior hockey career. The Lakehead Thunderwolves are betting the carryover to the university ranks carries over.
The Thunderwolves are hoping Smith maintains a semblance of the point-a-game pace he showed in his final 74 games over a season-plus with the Whitby Fury of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
At 21, Smith is working on his sixth team, having had stops in Wellington, Aurora, Sault Ste. Marie and Owen Sound before having a 58-point campaign (19 goals, 39 assists) in 54 games last year with Whitby.
“I bounced around a lot especially after my stint in major junior. A lot of it was just finding the right fit, finding a team that felt like home,” said Smith, an Ajax, Ont., native. “Somewhere where I’d get a good opportunity to be a top guy and to play and actually develop. . . . I got lucky in my final year with Whitby. It was a nice fit.”
The six-foot-one, 190-pound forward left the junior ranks as a grizzled veteran — and team captain — as he chose to study and play in Thunder Bay as one of the nine recruited freshman.
“I think it was just trying to pass on whatever I had picked up from the older guys at the beginning of my career and pass it on to the younger guys, going from being a 16-year-old in junior ‘A’ to being a 21-year-old in junior ‘A’,” Smith said of his leadership role.
“You see a lot, you experience a lot, you have a lot to pass on. You can really make a difference in a young guy’s career. The biggest thing was helping the young guys and having an impact on the organization, the team, and the other guys on the room.”
The Thunderwolves signed Smith on July 9.
“This definitely seemed like a good spot,” said Smith. “Especially with all the community support. You’re playing in front of fans every night at home. We’re in a competitive division, too. The opportunity sounded unbelievable. It was tough to say no.”
Speed and skill were traits highlighted by Thunderwolves head coach Andrew Wilkins in the official press release two months ago.
“That’s when I’m playing my best, when I’m playing fast,” said Smith. “Skill, but simple at the same time. A lot of plays you make, they don’t have to be the greatest plays in the world. Play simple, play fast. Playing like that, that’s usually when I’m playing well.”
Smith, and the rest of the rookie crop, are adjusting quickly to the OUA.
“The returning guys have helped a lot with that, he said. “They’ve made everyone feel at home right away. As soon as you’re on the ice you forget about everything else, you just feel at home. There’s been nothing special with that. It just comes naturally.”
Training camp has been held at the Tournament Centre since Sept. 3. The scene will shift to Port Arthur Arena starting Monday.
Lakehead’s first non-conference games are Sept. 20-21 at Fort William Gardens against the Laurentian Voyageurs.