CORNER BROOK Andrew Smith has no idea what’s in store for his hockey future, but he appreciates an opportunity to find out.
Smith, who lives in Corner Brook, has been invited to the Vancouver Canucks training camp in September.
The hulking six-foot-five, 225-pound winger doesn’t appear to be in the plans for his former team — the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — for the 2011-2012 season.
The Tigres, like all other major junior teams, can only carry three 20-year-old players per season and it doesn’t appear Smith will be one of them. Smith will turn 20 Oct. 1 and he is hoping to turn some heads at the Canucks training camp, which opens Sept. 11.
Smith said most kids dream of playing in the National Hockey League when they start playing the game and he is no different. He is embracing the invite to camp with hopes of one day being a professional hockey player.
“I got my foot in the door now for a camp so I will hope for the best,” Smith said earlier this week while training in St. John’s where he will spend the balance of the summer before heading to camp.
With about eight weeks left in the 2010-11 QMJHL regular season, Smith received a telephone call from Canucks scout Darryl Young. The two talked hockey and Young made it known the Canucks had an interest in him. Then, during the last game of the season — a playoff lost to the Saint John Sea Dogs — Smith was a healthy scratch sitting in the stands when Young and another member of the Canucks scouting staff approached him about his future. They had a chat for over 30 minutes and Smith walked away in a positive frame of mind.
Young and Smith corresponded back and forth, conducting interviews and having the prospect perform a number of tests in a number of areas. Then, about an hour after the 2011 NHL Entry Draft had ended and Smith wasn’t taken by anybody, Young called Smith with the good news.
“It was a crazy experience. Probably the best experience of my life so far,” he said.
“I kind of seen it coming, but always in the back of your head you’re second-guessing yourself and you never really know until the time comes, so I was pretty excited when I got the call,” he added.
Being invited to the camp means there’s a lot of hard work ahead for the son of Leonard and Sharon Smith. He has moved to St. John’s for the summer to train with a group of pros, including Ryane Clowe and Teddy Purcell, under the tutelage of highly-touted trainer Bob Thompson of St. John’s.
Smith knew it was in his best interest to make the move to St. John’s because he realizes seeing how the pros do it all can only improve his odds of impressing the right people.
“They can push you more and they know what it takes to go away, so basically that’s why I came in here and had to make a change,” he said of training with a group of Newfoundland NHLers.
Change is something he will embrace because he’s willing to do what it takes to play pro, but that doesn’t mean changing the way he plays the game. He knows what he must do in order to have a chance.
“I got to play a physical role. I’m not sent up there to put goals in the back of the net for them. So I am going up there and play a physical role, play dirt, play hard down low and do whatever I have to do to make the team,” he said.
“My focus now is on going to camp and making it,” he added.
While in St. John’s Smith knows he must stay dedicated to a training program and that also means keeping his social life in check. He can’t afford to let the opportunity slip by because he didn’t prepare himself to the best of his ability.
“I can’t really let George Street distract me too much. I just basically got to focus on hockey for the next 10 weeks,” he said.