Will step down from general manager role after weekend camp
© Star photo by Geraldine Brophy
Leonard Smith poses for a photo at the Pepsi Centre in this Star file photo.
Leonard Smith will cherish the 20 years he spent lending a helping hand to minor hockey, but he has decided it’s time to take a break.
Smith will step down as the general manager of the Colemans Western Kings of the provincial major midget hockey league after the team holds its spring prospects identification camp this weekend at the Kinsmen Arena II.
“Every winter I’ve been involved with hockey and just decided now to take a break and let some new blood get involved,” Smith said Wednesday.
Five years ago, with his son Daniel in his last year of eligibility for major midget, Smith joined forces with Darryl Meade — whose son Ryan was on the team — to put the Kings back on the map since there was no franchise in western Newfoundland at the time.
“A lot of Daniel’s buddies were going to be without a game of hockey so myself and Darryl Meade got together and we got a team in the league,” he said.
He never envisoned he would have stayed for five years with Daniel only playing only one season and sons Josh and Andrew already graduated from the program. But, he did stay on and was rewarded with a provincial crown two years ago and a berth in this year’s final that saw them beaten by the talented Central Ice Pak.
Smith admits it was certainly an easier job to do once Daniel had graduated because it’s a tough job for anybody to be objective where their own child is concerned.
“It’s certainly a totally different ball game,” he said.
“You look at the game the way you’re suppose to look at it. When you got your own kids involved you kind of tend to look at your own kid a little bit too much. Well that’s the way I was anyway and now when they’re out of it you see it for what it is and try to help everybody.”
He also recognizes that sometimes there may be no other choice but to have parents fill key management roles with their own sons on the team because of the huge commitment it takes to run the program with a hectic schedule the norm for all franchises in the mix.
“A lot of parents who don’t have kids involved just don’t get involved that’s just the way life is,” he said.
Watching a bunch of great kids win a provincial championship under his tenure was certainly a proud moment, but seeing league organizers decide three years ago that there will be no longer be one team from St. John’s but two was something he actually believes kept the major midget program alive in the province.
He had been fighting for years to see a change made whereby there would be two teams and more parity around the league so he was relieved to see it come to fruition.
“When they had one team in the league they were just slaughtering every team year in and year out and the interest was dying,” he said. “When they put two teams back in the league three years ago it made for a lot more interest.”
He suggests that only requires taking a glimpse at what happened in the final series the past couple of years. St. John’s hasn’t won the crown in three years and this year was really a unique season that proves what he was fighting for is in the best interest of all franchises across the board.
“This has been the first year in the history of major midget, that I know of, that there was no St. John’s team in the final,” he said. “It’s great for the game no question on it. I just seen the interest rise a lot higher than when it was with one team from St. John’s.”
The search for a new group to take over the franchise is underway and has been advertised in various media outlets, including The Western Star, over the past week. Smith said anybody interested in taking over the team can apply for the franchise, but he hopes that the team remains based in Corner Brook because it’s the best place to operate a team out of based on his experience.
All those long hours working behind the scenes, the road trips and the thrills and spills of competitive hockey at an elite level have been worth it for him though. He was quick to answer when he was asked about what he would miss about being involved with the Kings.
“I’m going to miss being at the rink and I’m going to miss seeing first-year players come in as kids and leave as men three years later,” he said.
The first open on-ice session for prospects from pockets of western Newfoundland is scheduled for Friday 6:30-8:30 p.m. and two sessions will be held on Saturday with ice slots scheduled for both 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. at the Kinsmen Arena II.