By Bruce Heidman, Sudbury Star
SUDBURY – For the second time this off season, the NOJHL has lost a head coach to the Ontario Hockey League.
Jordan Smith is leaving the Soo Thunderbirds to become an associate coach with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.
He will be joining former Powassan Voodoos coach Scott Wray in the OHL ranks after the latter was named to Stan Butler’s staff with the Battalion in North Bay
A Sault Ste. Marie native who played his junior hockey for the Greyhounds before serving as head coach Thunderbirds for the last four seasons, the former hard-nosed defenceman was named to the position on Wednesday.
“Being a Greyhounds alumni, I have had lots of good battles over the years with Wolves, but to stay in the North is great,” he said from his Sault Ste. Marie home.
“It is close to home, and in terms of the organization, there is lots of excitement surrounding the team and Sudbury with the new arena, and it is humbling to contribute to that process, and to come in as an associate coach is fantastic and it is an exciting time for staff and players and the people of Sudbury, as well.”
Smith, who played two seasons of pro hockey in the AHL before having his playing career cut short by an eye injury, is grateful for the opportunity to join an OHL team.
“It’s obviously very humbling to be chosen as Cory Stillman’s associate coach and to help lead this team and organization into the new era, as it is being referred to as,” he said.
“I feel like my career has come full circle. I came to the OHL as a player and now as a coach, and that is rewarding and special and I can’t thank Rob (Papineau) and Cory enough for the opportunity and I can’t wait to get going.”
Smith is looking forward to working with the Wolves’ defencemen after being in charge of the forwards on the bench with the T-birds.
“In the past as a head coach, I was more running the forwards, but I am looking forward to running the defence,” he said.
“Having been a defenceman at the pro level, that is my first nature, and I look forward to working with the D corps. There have been some recent moves, so it is a fresh start for everyone, including myself, and I hope to develop players to get noticed at the next level and help the Wolves win hockey games.”
Wolves forwards Drake and Darian Pilon played a season under Smith prior to joining the Wolves last year, and are thrilled he has joined the squad.
“I am excited,” Drake said.
“I loved him as a coach. He is strict on details and discipline and will help us be a championship team. He knows when to be tough and when to laugh and when to pick his spots. He will build you up, but if you need to be told something or fix something, he will do that, too. I love him as a coach and I am excited to have him again.
“I will tell my teammates to play your hardest and he’ll love you,” Drake added.
“He knows what it takes to make the next level, he was there and had to work hard to get there, then was injured and had to work his way to up in coaching, and he knows what it takes.”
Smith, 31, is happy to be reunited with the Pilon twins.
“It was nice to see Drake and Darian break into the league after a year with me with the Thunderbirds,” he said.
“I haven’t spoke with them, but we need players like the Pilions and our returning players to lead the way for the younger guys and take accountability seriously, and if we do that there’s a good chance to improve on last season.”
Smith caught a couple of Wolves games last season.
“I watched the team a few times last year, and I know Dmitry (Sokolov) a highly skilled player and (Macauley) Carson had 30 goals and is still pretty fresh,” he said.
“My workload will switch to getting to know these guys now and I will do my homework and reach out to lots of these guys, and it is an exciting time for me and my family.”
Smith, who led the Thunderbirds to three regular season titles, two league championships and one Dudley Hewitt Cup, is eager to get to work.
“It’s no secret the OHL is the best development league in the world and to be there as a player and coach is very rewarding and it shows how great the game can be, and I’m looking forward to putting the work in and helping the team as much as possible to turn it into a contender,” he said.
Smith has been in steady contact with Stillman, and a game plan for next season’s team is still taking shape.
“I’m sure we’ll talk more about that as summer progresses, but we are going to be a tough team to play against and not let anyone do anything easy,” he said.
“We’ll show up every day to work and get better and create a positive atmosphere and develop players, and that in turn results in team success and goes hand in hand, and I can’t wait to contribute to that.”
Stillman welcomed Smith to the staff.
“After an extensive search, I am happy to announce Jordan as our associate coach,” Stillman said in a team press release.
“Jordan was a strong defenceman in this league and a second-round draft choice of Anaheim in 2004. For the past four seasons, he’s been coaching the Soo Thunderbirds with great results and great success and I am excited he will be joining Darryl Moxam and myself on the coaching staff. I believe his experience as a defencemen will strengthen our D corps. He is a good person who overcame a tough career-ending injury and he has persevered. He is someone who I believe makes our entire team stronger moving forward.”
Wolves general manager Rob Papineau said Smith is a perfect fit for the team.
“Jordan exemplifies the characteristics we hold in high regard, and it starts with player development,” he said in the press release.
“Cory led the search for the person he saw had the skill and capability to the management of the bench and complement how our systems will be developed and implemented. Together, we think Jordan will have an immediate impact.”