Growing up in Valemount, B.C. Braden Smith’s dream to play in the Western Hockey League was planted every time his family was in Kamloops for minor hockey.
Each time they were in the City of Tournaments, they checked to see if the Blazers were playing. Watching the Blazers created an inner fire in Smith as he knew he wanted to play in the league.
“I had the thought of me wearing one of those jerseys,” says Smith, who started the season with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Kamloops Storm, and will finish with the WHL’s Victoria Royals.
Smith’s favourite Blazers player was defenceman Luke Zazula, who wore his favourite No 7. Smith, 17, is five-foot-11, 185 pounds and plays a physical, fast game. The two games with the Storm this season helped Smith because he learned from the older players who have experience and know the game better.
“I think that helps bring my intensity up to the standards that are needed,” says Smith, who debuted with the Royals last season as an affiliate player for one game.
In that game, he made an impression on Royals coach-GM Dan Price.
“He is extremely physical and competitive,” says Price. “We know he moves the puck well. We saw that. We noticed in the minutes he played and the practice time he had, he has a good first pass. That grit and edge and compete makes him a strong defender as well.”
Smith enjoyed his time with the Storm because he was surrounded by great teammates and he was excited to play with them. He really liked the coaching staff, led by Steve Gainey, who would reach out to him by phone to give feedback on areas for Smith to improve and worked with him on the ice.
“He was a good coach, especially with the season that we had,” says Smith.
Smith enjoyed playing in the KIJHL because it fit well with his physical style.
“I think I fit in really well,” he says. “I’m definitely ready to make the jump to the WHL.”
Price says Smith will make a good transition because of his KIJHL time, adding it’s a great development league for the WHL.
“He got good coaching. It’s a great stepping stone for him,” says Price.
The Royals coach has seen that Smith is receptive to feedback and is engaged. He is willing to work, listen and take feedback. And with four to five rookie defencemen on the Royals, Price says Smith will have a chance to earn minutes in the top six.
The Royals begin their 24-game schedule on March 26 and end May 12. The compressed schedule will see the Royals take a platoon approach with their players to manage the playing time load.
“It’s important for all young guys to get some rest,” he says. “He will be right there in the mix.”
With no playoffs in what Price described as a “sprint to who can finish first and win the division” it will be good for the players’ development in how they deal with it.
Storm helps Kamloops native ready for season with Silvertips
With a Western Hockey League season being an unknown last fall, Kamloops native Aidan Sutter joined the hometown Storm.
The Everett Silvertips defenceman did so to stay sharp, develop his skills and be game ready. Mission accomplished.
“I feel more than ready, excited,” says Sutter, who last season as a rookie with the Silvertips, had two points in 42 games. With the Storm, Sutter focused on getting strong, working on his speed and shots from the point was important. Being in a team environment was huge, while being able to continue working on his skills.”
With it being his draft year, Sutter’s goal is to play well enough to get drafted. Should that not happen, he would like to get invited to an NHL camp.
“I’d like to become an overall better player,” says Sutter, who is five-foot-11, 170 pounds.
Sutter enjoyed his time with the Storm, especially because many friends were on the team.
“It really helped me keep busy and wanting to go to the rink everyday,” says Sutter, who started his junior career playing eight games with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in 2018-19. “The coaching staff there is really good as they know what they are doing.
“It’s just a great organization. It’s a very well run organization,” continued Sutter. “They are there to help guys move on to the next level. It really shows by their practises and how they conduct themselves around the rink.”