Saturday, 23 September 2017

Smith brings rare blend of skill and toughness to Huskies

Power forward Chloe Smith is a welcome addition to the Huskies.
    Chloe Smith loves the fact her rivals have become her friends.
    The 18-year-old centre, who is a rookie with University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, arrived in Saskatoon having built a reputation as being one of the fiercest competitors in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. For the past four seasons, Smith rose to prominence with her hometown Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats possessing a rare combination of skill and toughness.
    Her game hit new heights over her final two campaigns with the Wildcats, where she piled up 31 goals and 50 assists in 54 regular season games. Smith played with a physical edge that many couldn’t match, but it was also a smart physical edge. She only took 42 minutes in penalties over the past two campaigns making her an almost perfect power forward.
    Arriving in Saskatoon in late August to join the Huskies, Smith, who stands 5-foot-7, became teammates with many players she used to battle against in the midget AAA ranks, while also being reunited with former Wildcats teammates in Brooklyn Haubrich, Kayla Kirwan and Jasey Book. Smith is enjoying the fact she is playing beside her former rivals, but she is quick to note nothing was ever taken personally when it game to the battles on the ice.
Chloe Smith jets into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    “We chuckle a little bit,” said Smith. “We talk about it, we talk about the games.
    “Honestly, it is fine. When you are on the ice, it is different. You are playing.
    “Off the ice, we are all friends and get along. We kind of laugh about things back in AAA. It is funny to talk about it, talk about the close games. It is good too.”
    Smith was quick to add she played with a number of her current Huskies teammates in Saskatchewan’s provincial team program and the bonds remain from those days. Off the ice, Smith is personable and outgoing, and she also exudes a presence in a good way wherever she is. On the ice, her competitive side dominates, and she doesn’t hide what type of player she strives to be.
    “I want to be strong,” said Smith. “I don’t want to be known as the kid that gets knocked off the puck easy.
Chloe Smith built a reputation for being a fierce competitor.
    “I want to get in there and make things happen. That creates offence when you are winning your battles, and you are strong. I’m not going to lay down to no one.
    “I try my best to get involved and to make contact. I grew up playing boys hockey, so that helps me out a little bit.”
    Smith took up hockey at the novice level playing on boys’ teams when her family still resided in Paradise Valley, Alta. She kept playing the sport when her family relocated to Swift Current when she was in Grade 3.
    When her family moved to Swift Current, Smith continued playing on boys’ team until her first year in bantam, when she actually played for the city’s female midget AA team. As 14-year-old bantam aged player, she made the Wildcats as an underage player. Smith glows when she talks about her four seasons with the Wildcats.
Chloe Smith looks to make a pass.
    “Those were the times of my life,” said Smith. “I had so much fun with that time.
    “The community was awesome. They always supported us, and we all did events for them every year. We got along really well with the school.
    “We had good fans coming out and supporting our games. We would do the same for the school teams. It was really fun.”
    During her second season with the Wildcats, Smith became well-known across the SFMAAAHL for one play that occurred on March 10, 2015. The Wildcats were in Saskatoon facing the host Stars in Game 1 of a best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series.
    Smith knocked out Stars star forward Nara Elia, who would later go on to play for Canada’s under-18 women’s team, with a hit. For that collision, Smith received a major penalty for a head hit, a game misconduct and had to sit out a one-game suspension. Reflecting on what happened, Smith said the hit happened by accident.
    She said she was skating backwards at first as her Wildcats were regrouping in their own zone for a breakout, and Elia swung through the Swift Current zone on the forecheck. As Smith turned to skate forward, she saw Elia at the last second coming towards her and the two collided. Smith braced for the collision in order to protect herself, and Elia had her head turned and didn’t see she was about to run into Smith.
    The two ended up being teammates in Saskatchewan’s provincial team program. Smith said they talked about what happened and have become good friends. Besides the competitive part of the game, Smith said she loves making friendships in the sport, and she has done that easily with every team she has been part of.
Chloe Smith sets up position on the forecheck.
    While Smith became known for that collision with Elia, she had a decent campaign offensively in her second season with the Wildcats netting 10 goals and nine assists in 28 regular season games. As a result, Smith became a figure to watch in the SFMAAAHL going into her 16-year-old season, and she closed out her midget AAA career by exploding offensively.
    “I got a lot more confident with the puck, and that was actually huge,” said Smith, who was the Wildcats captain in her final season with the team. “I started carrying it more and shooting it more.
“I realized that I actually maybe have a shot of playing high level hockey.”
    Huskies head coach Steve Kook saw Smith’s hit on Elia, and while the images of that play were ingrained on his mind, the bench boss was impressed with how well the Wildcats star played afterwards. Kook went to work on the recruiting front and succeeded in getting a commitment from Smith.
    “Chloe fits our style the way that we want to play,” said Kook. “She is physical. She is skilled. Smitty skates well.
Chloe Smith, left, is always ready to battle in the corners.
    “She needs to get up to speed a little bit here, but that will come as she gets more games under her belt and gets used to the program and the league. She shoots the puck so well. The grittiness of her it fits who we are.”
    On Saturday afternoon at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Smith wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet, but she was a presence during a 2-0 pre-season win against the MacEwan University Griffins of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
    Centring a line with Shyan Elias and fifth-year veteran Kori Herner on the wings, Smith skated with a lot of energy and intensity. It seemed like she didn’t lose any battles in the corners.
    In the third period, she created two solid scoring chances. On the second of those changes, she drove hard to the net, and the play ended with her having a stare down against two Griffins players before the officials directed everyone away.
Chloe Smith has befriended old rivals upon joining the Huskies.
    Smith wants to keep playing for as long as she can. She admits she would love to get a chance to be part of Canada’s national team program one day but adds that a lot of things have to materialize for that to happen.
    She wants to get her education degree, but also plans to keep doors open to get into firefighting, when her time with the Huskies concludes. For now, she is focused on enjoying every moment of her rookie campaign and believes her Huskies can make noise in the Canada West Conference and the overall U Sports ranks.
    “We’re fast, (and) we’re smart with the puck,” said Smith. “We still have a lot of improvement that is coming.
    “I think we’re going to be real competitors in the league this year. I think we have a good team, good goaltending.
    “Everyone is getting along. I think it is going to be a good year for us.”
    In Saturday’s win over the Griffins, sophomore forward Bailee Bourassa scored with 20 seconds to play in the second period to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead, and she assisted on a third period goal from defender Madison Colbow.
The Huskies celebrate their 2-0 pre-season win on Saturday.
    Chloe Marshall turned away 14 shots to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Huskies, who finish their pre-season schedule posting a 5-1 record. Sandy Heim turned away 25 shots to take the setback in goal for the Griffins.
    The Huskies are now off until Oct. 6, when they open their regular season schedule hosting their provincial rivals the University of Regina Cougars at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

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