When Josh Smith signed on to play for the Corner Brook Royals this season, he was excited for the opportunity to play a competitive game of hockey again.
But he was also ecstatic to rejoin a brotherhood that he had been missing for almost a decade.
“It’s definitely a nice feeling to be out there with the guys,” he said. “In the dressing room, sharing the wins and losses and the bus rides home.
“That feels good.”
Now 30 years old, Smith played his minor hockey in Corner Brook, eventually skating with the major midget Western Kings for a year, before embarking on a stint in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League. He eventually returned home to play a couple of seasons in senior hockey in the version of the league that existed back then — one with the Royals and one with the Deer Lake Red Wings.
Though this league is much different than that previous incarnation, it’s still the most intense hockey Smith has seen since that period of time. Work responsibilities limited the number of games he was able to suit up for this season also hampered his ability to get readjusted.
He played in seven of the team’s 12 regular season games, registering eight points (3G-5A) over that span.
In six playoff appearances so far, Smith has already outperformed that output, scoring 11 points (3G-8A), which is tied with David Budgell for second place among all players in the post-season.
“It took a while to get the legs going,” he admitted.
“I think it was a lot for everybody,” he added. “It’s finally now, I think, everybody is getting their legs going and getting a better feel for playing with each other.”
While some guys might find it harder to score in the playoffs, once the going gets a lot tougher, Smith welcomes that style of game and it’s showed.
“I don’t feel like I’m an overly skilled player,” he says with a laugh. “Playing in a tighter checking game suits more towards what I would like to play in.”
The Port aux Basques Mariners have been only too happy to oblige in that regard, over the course of the season, the double round robin semifinal, and now in the best-of-seven championship series that’s currently knotted at one game apiece.
“They definitely want to throw the body around as much as they can,” Smith said.
The centreman said he and his teammates were satisfied with the opening weekend split, if not necessarily happy about it.
“The way the games went, we were lucky to come away with a split, I feel,” he said.
He said the team needs a much better effort, especially at home, this weekend to take control of the series.
“We kind of let our fans down,” he said of last weekend’s 7-3 defeat on home ice.
The Mariners visit the Royals 8 p.m. tonight at the Corner Brook Civic Centre, with Game 4 going 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bruce II Sports Centre in Port aux Basques.