Jordan Smith, who lost sight in left eye in pro hockey, to play for Lakehead

The Canadian Press
The Hockey News

Jordan Smith, who lost sight in left eye in pro hockey, to play for Lakehead

The Canadian Press

It took only a second to happen, and it changed his life. Skating for the Portland Pirates in an AHL game in Maine last Feb. 24 in his rookie pro season, Smith was struck by a deflected puck. "I was in front of the net and the puck came up and struck me in the eye," he recalls.

He lost sight in his left eye, which forced him to reassess his future.

The NHL had been his goal, and he had all the tools to get there. The six-foot-two, 220-pound defenceman was selected in the second round of the 2005 NHL entry draft by the Anaheim Ducks after finishing his junior career with his home-city Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

After the frightful injury, he came to accept the reality that he'd be better off choosing a different career. So, he decided to become a teacher, and now he'll attend Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., for the schooling that will someday put him in a classroom - and allow him to play hockey again.

He'll begin his hockey comeback in January with the varsity Thunderwolves. Coach Pete Belliveau has him pencilled in for a Jan. 5 game in Windsor, and Smith is excited about the prospect.

"It was an unfortunate injury but I don't hold a grudge," Smith said in an interview. "I love the game of hockey and it is still my passion.

"What hurt me the most was not being able to pursue my dream, but I'm thrilled I have a chance to continue to play."

Smith's injury compelled the AHL to introduce a mandatory visor law this season.

"You play in the AHL to move up (to the NHL) and, with my scenario, I wasn't going to have much of a chance to move up," Smith said in explaining his new direction. "I know now that the NHL is out of my future so the smartest choice for me is to get an education."

He's not ruling out another stab at the pro game, but his focus is on getting an education now, and helping Lakehead win the Canadian intercollegiate title.

"They have a great program and I'm thrilled to be part of it," he said from the Soo. "It's going to be a good fit for me, being up north where I'm from."

Belliveau went to the Soo to meet Smith last month and talk about him playing for the Thunderwolves. Belliveau has experience coaching a player with a sight deficiency. In junior in Moncton 27 years ago, his top scorer was Gary Roy, who'd lost the sight in an eye.

He hit it off with Smith immediately.

"He's a man of character and he'll be a great addition to our program," said Belliveau.

Smith will have a full five years of college hockey eligibility, so Belliveau will give him a key role into the next decade. The Thunderwolves are already one of the best teams in college hockey. They are the defending champions of the 16-team Ontario conference and CIS national silver medallists.

Smith has not been in an organized game since the accident, but he has skated.

"It was awkward," he said of getting back onto the ice last April for a skate. "It was kind of discouraging, but I skated a few times during the summer (in the Soo) and now I don't really have a problem.

"The more I skate and practice, the better I'm going to be. As I go forward, I'll pick up on it. I think I can handle it."

He wasn't wearing a visor when he got hurt, and he still leans towards supporting a player's right to have the option, but admits "it was a smart move" made by the AHL to make them mandatory.

"If it saves one guy, it's worth it," he said.

His immediate challenge is working himself back into top physical condition, which he'll concentrate on after completing studies at a Soo college to meet academic requirements at the Lakehead.

"I don't want to be in a position to fail," he said. "I want to be physically and mentally prepared when I start playing again.

"I'm not far off now. I'm confident in my abilities. It'll be exciting to get there and get started."

Athletic director Tom Warden is looking forward to seeing Smith in a Thunderwolves jersey.

"Any time that our hockey program can recruit a person of Jordan's character, quality and athletic ability is certainly a positive thing for Lakehead University and the city of Thunder Bay," he said.


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Jordan Smith, who lost sight in left eye in pro hockey, to play for Lakehead