Zak Smith’s young hockey career has been marred by a fair amount of losing.
Growing up playing with the Central Plains Capitals in Manitoba, Smith never experienced a winning season, but always hit high totals on the score sheet.
He had 29 points in 29 games two years ago in Bantam AAA and then notched 56 in 44 games in his first and only Midget AAA year with the Capitals.
The Rebels 16-year-old forward, who earned a recall to the big club after his season concluded with the Neepawa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, hopes he can garner a few playoff wins in Red Deer.
“It’s really exciting because I’ve never really been on a winning team before. I’ve always been on the other end. It’s nice,” Smith said.
A native of Austin, Man., about 130 kms west of Winnipeg, Smith said he wasn’t sure what to expect in his first season of Junior A hockey in Manitoba.
Although he didn’t play as much as he might have liked to start the year, by the end of the year he had 11 goals and 22 points in 44 games.
“Really tough, guys are bigger, guys are stronger and just had to do my job. Wasn’t a goal scorer. Was mucking and grinding in the corners. Near the end, we had some injuries and it gave me some time to score. I ended off the season really well,” said Smith.
“Just enjoy it. When you’re 20-year-old you’re going to be out there. Just watch the game and learn from it.”
With a unique blend of size and speed, Smith is working diligently on the defensive side of the game and understands that is the key to playing more as a 16-year-old.
He picked up a brief feel for the WHL game when he earned a pair of recalls from the Rebels in January and early Feb.
“I think I can be an all-around good guy. I’m a good 200-foot player. I’m a good defensive player. So hopefully they trust me in our zone,” Smith said.
“Here in the WHL, you have to be in this spot at this time, so it’s just a defensive mindset you have to have.”
As the playoff buzz ramps up in Red Deer, the winger remembered what it was like to watch the run against the Lethbridge Hurricanes from the stands last year.
With five games left in the regular season, if the Rebels do make the postseason, the six-foot-two, 181-pound left winger is itching for a chance to get on the ice.
“I practiced with the team last year right before the playoffs and just the intensity in practices, it’s all about playoffs and the team,” Smith said.
“Nobody is playing for the number on the back, everything is about the crest on the front.”