For 21-year-old Doan Smith, former forward for the Columbia Valley Rockies, the 2016-17 hockey season will be a new opportunity in foreign yet familiar territory.
Entering his second season in the Swedish Hockey League playing for the Nynashamns IF, Smith will be looked on as a leader for his two former Rockies’ teammates and friends Damon Raven and Ryan Lawson who are joining Smith this year in Sweden.
After playing two seasons for the Rockies in from 2013 to 2015 scoring 40 goals in 71 games, Smith made the journey to Sweden at the start of last season as the next step in his hockey career beyond junior hockey. As a native of small-town Cessford Alberta, Smith said playing professional hockey has always been a dream of his.
“Every kid wants to play pro,” he said. “Growing up you think that it’s going to be the NHL but now that that is kind of passed, it’s coming out of the KIJHL and going over to Europe.”
He said that while the adjustment to the culture in Sweden was a big difference for Smith, the transition on the ice was equally as daunting.
“Big difference right away is that we’re coming from the KIJHL where most of the rinks are smaller and you go over there where every rink is going to be an Olympic ice so it’s a lot more skating, it’s a lot more skill and speed rather than the KIJHL being a tough, physical league,” he said. “The focus there is the conditioning wise, stick-handling, the passing; it’s honestly going back to fundamentals like when you’re in minor hockey and shying away from knowing you’re going to get hit or worrying about physical factors.”
As a small forward weighing in at 161 pounds at the height of 5’8”, this more open style of hockey with less physical contact would theoretically play into the benefit of Smith as a newcomer. In his first 12 games with the new club, Smith recorded three goals and four assists but said he felt that he could be bringing the team more than he had produced.
With more potential playing time back in British Columbia with the Rockies, Smith talked with the team in Sweden and made the difficult decision to play out the rest of the year in Canada in hopes of developing a stronger skill set for the following season.
“They had fully invited me back and they were okay with me staying the rest of the year but they fully understood and agreed with me that it would be better to go back and develop knowing what I had to work on and being able to come back this year and hopefully putting up that point per game player they expect me to be over there,” he said.
Returning to the Rockies, Smith did just that as he recorded 42 points in 25 games at nearly a goal per game pace. He said the time back home in a Rockies uniform allowed him to get the perspective he needed to become a valuable asset in Sweden this year not only as a player but as a teammate to newcomers Raven and Lawson.
Smith said there are a number of pieces of advice that he’s going to try to impart on them as they ease their way into a new culture and lifestyle.
“You get put in a place where they don’t speak the same language so honestly it’s about enjoying it,” he said. “It’s just going over there and being calm and treating it like it’s hockey after junior and that not many people get to do that so you just have to enjoy it and enjoy the moment.”
He said that he understands the opportunity walks a fine line between enjoying the experience and putting in the work required to make the transition to upper levels in the Swedish Hockey League.
“You can go over there and play a year or two years and enjoy it and take it as a vacation or you can go over there and work hard and make it into a profession if you really wanted to,” he said.