Minden's Owen Smith drafted to OHL
Minden’s Owen Smith isn’t getting ahead of himself just yet, even after learning he was chosen by the Flint Firebirds with their 13th pick, 244th overall in the Ontario Hockey League’s priority selection this past Saturday.
The Grade 10 Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student is very happy about his selection, but knows more work is required so he can be at his best when he competes for a roster spot with the Firebirds during tryouts at the team’s training camp in June.
For now he welcomes the challenge and the opportunity to further his hockey career with Flint.
“I was very honoured and excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “This opens a lot of doors on my career.”
Unlike the other OHL teams with storied histories, such as the Oshawa Generals and the Peterborough Petes, the Firebirds are just entering their second year of operation.
Smith appreciates the opportunity to be part of making history with the fledgling club.
The first time the 15-year-old thought of making the OHL was when he was 12 and during the past couple of years has realized it’s a possible reality.
“This year I started realizing it actually might happen,” he said.
Smith finished his past season playing for the Lindsay Muskies of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, when he was called up from the AAA Central Ontario Wolves minor midget team for the last three regular season games.
The Smiths were all together in the living room of their Minden home when Owen’s name appeared with the Firebirds on an Internet draft posting.
Tammy, his mother, said they started watching the draft at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning.
The first three rounds are televised and then there’s a list on the Internet, indicating the rounds and which team is picking which player. Tammy said waiting for Owen’s name to appear during draft day on April 9 was very stressful. In the end there were 302 players chosen from Ontario teams and teams in the U.S., from more than 1,000 eligible players.
“It was about 4 p.m. when his name showed and I think we were dumbfounded almost like were we really seeing it, is it real?” said Tammy. “Such emotion. We were in the living room and honestly we didn’t know that Flint was looking at him so that was a surprise and I said, ‘Are we ready to travel to Michigan?’ and the hugs and high fives started very loudly in the living room.”
Tammy added they hope the best for Owen and understand this could mean a big move for him, but also an opportunity for post-secondary education.
There are still details that she and Owen’s dad Craig just don’t know yet.
The Smiths said they were among the few that didn’t acquire the services of an agent.
Cliff Long, an OHL scout who lives in the area who also noticed fellow Highlands player Mat Wilbee, had been helping out the family as an unofficial advisor. He told them if Smith is good enough, teams will find him. The family is appreciative to him for saving them money and giving them assistance through this process, particularly his advice for Smith to play tougher – winning battles in the corners and on the boards – midway through the season.
Tammy contends her son, with a Dec. 25, 2000, birthday, is the youngest taken in the draft with Francesco Reda, with the same birthday, who was chosen by the Sudbury Wolves in the 15th round.
Hockey has been a huge part of the Smiths’ life, spending countless hours at the arena and on the road. Tammy and Craig are happy for their son, as his hard work and their dedication to his passion has enabled this great opportunity.
“Wow, it means so much, It’s such an honour for him and all of his hard work and really our entire lives have rotated around hockey ... it is such a thrill for him to get drafted,” she said.
She estimates there’s been tens of thousands of miles driven between her and her husband over the years to this point.
“It’s funny about the miles on the car because every time I take my car in for service they can’t believe its only one-and-a-half years old,” she said.
Smith didn’t forget to thank those who have helped him.
He is appreciative of his parents, the Highland Storm Minor Hockey Association, where he started and played his formative years of hockey, the Central Ontario Wolves, most recently the AAA minor midget team, and all of his hockey coaches. He spent four years with the Wolves and seven with the Storm. While a Bantam player with the Storm, he won a provincial championship.
The hard working disciplined player knows getting picked is only a beginning to a goal he was reluctant to share.
“Most of the hard work will start now. I’ve been working hard, but I got to start working harder now that the opportunity has come,” he said.
Smith is currently training with personal fitness trainer Lorie Kah, who has worked with Haliburton’s Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche.
Although he has visited Michigan, Smith has never been to Flint. In his research since getting picked, he’s learned it’s a big sports town and is not of an intimidating size, which suits him. The prospect of attending high school there while playing hockey hasn’t event registered since he is focused on the first step of making the team.
“I’m just taking it step by step right now,” he said.
From having played against half of the players that he will be competing with at training camp for a roster spot, he said, there is already a level of comfort. Also, he won’t be the only Central Ontario Wolves player there since the Firebirds also drafted two of his AAA minor midget teammates and good friends, Ty Dellandrea and Braydon Leeking, a linemate during the season.
Dellandrea was chosen as their first pick, fifth overall, while Leeking was chosen in the sixth round, 104th overall. Two other players from his team were also drafted to the OHL.
Smith was happy for his friends, but understands the mindset he needs to adopt to keep his focus on his goal.
“[My mentality is] go against everyone because I have to beat those guys out, so my friends off the ice, but not on the ice,” he said.