Ty Smith didn’t have to wait very long to hear his name called at the Western Hockey League 2015 Bantam Draft on Thursday morning.
He just had to wait for the draft to start.
The Lloydminster native was selected first overall by the Spokane Chiefs, capping off an exciting year of bantam hockey that saw him suit up for the Delta Hockey Academy in British Columbia, after leaving his hometown at a young age.
“It’s a pretty exciting feeling,” said Smith. “I’ve been thinking about it a little bit lately and I’ll just be honoured to play with Spokane in the Western Hockey League.”
It was a happy morning in the Smith house, as the 15-year-old defenceman was joined by his father, Wayne; brother, Zack; and sister, Emma, for the draft, watching it live from their home in Lloydminster. For this hockey season, Smith wasn’t at home, spending his time with Delta, coming back to the Border City once the year had come to an end.
The gifted blue liner did make Lloydminster his home club a year prior, playing with the Lloydminster Heat in his minor bantam AAA year. He played a big role in the Heat’s near perfect regular season, which was capped off by an Alberta Bantam Hockey League championship. From there, the Heat went to the Western Canadian Bantam AAA Championships in Kelowna, B.C., where Smith was second in team scoring through five tournament games, scoring three goals and 13 points.
It was expected Smith would again lead the Heat in his major bantam year, however, the choice was made to send Smith to the Delta Hockey Academy rather than staying at home, in large part due to the family situation of father Wayne having three active children in sports.
“With boys playing hockey it freed up some time on our weekly schedule,” said Wayne Smith. “Ty was really intrigued at the model of an academy. He went an visited a few and he liked how he could get in his hockey workouts and his training and still have time to work on school work.”
As part of the Delta Wild bantam prep team, a team in which Smith captained, he scored nine goals and 28 points in 16 games, leading the team in scoring. They finished with a 12-4-2 record in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League through the regular season and Smith was named the MVP of the league for the season.
It was a growing year for the now 15-year-old, who had to move away from home at a young age and learn to grow without his family beside him. But knowing his future in the WHL would require a billet family, he used the experience as a chance to grow as an individual, just as much as he was growing on the ice.
“I got to keep developing as a good person,” said Smith. “It was a good experience learning to billet because if I am going to play in the Western Hockey League, I’m going to have to billet with a different family and move away from home. I developed lots on the ice, too. In the gym and the ice was a big area I continued to grow.”
The feeling of being the first overall pick is still settling in for Smith, who joins the elite group of players selected first overall in the WHL draft. Smith isn’t the first defenceman to be selected first overall by the Chiefs, as in 2006 they selected Jared Cowen with the first pick and he turned into an NHL defenceman with the Ottawa Senators.
Other first overall picks include current Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews (2003, Tr-City), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2008, Red Deer), Jake Virtanen (2011, Calgary) and Tyler Benson (2013, Vancouver).
The next decision for the Smith family is where will he play next year. There is an option to return to Delta for another season, but Smith said there is a good chance he will return back home and play for the midget Bobcats.
“It’s still settling in for me,” said Smith. “But it is a pretty good feeling. There is a pretty good chance I’ll be coming back to Lloydminster.”