Landing in Connecticut

Freshman forward Landon Smith has developed a unique passion for hockey that he brings to the ice every game.

By on October 29, 2014
Nick Solari/Chronicle
Landon Smith, 2013-14 Most Valuable Player of the British Columbia Hockey League, has impressed past and   current coaches with his positive work ethic and demeanor.

“Hey, it’s not going to work out.”

Landon Smith remembers his telephone call with the new Denver University men’s ice hockey head coach during the spring of 2013.

It was a phone call that he didn’t expect; one that altered everything he had ever planned—the very fabric of his life.

He was in the midst of his second year in the United States Hockey League when he was informed that his scholarship was being revoked. Denver’s program was going in a different direction, thrusting Landon into a future clouded with uncertainty and uneasiness in just a matter of moments.

When he was younger, he dreamt of playing at Denver, the campus only a short 20-minute drive from Smith’s hometown of Greenwood Village, Colo.

But he wouldn’t let the situation change the way he approached the game he loved. He wouldn’t give up on hockey. He wouldn’t stop fighting.

“I let it light a fire under me,” Landon said. “I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

***

As a child, a tiny pair of hockey skates hung above Landon Smith’s crib.

When Thompson Smith, Landon’s father, tries to explain how much hockey means to his son, he mentions that pair of skates.

It’s the only way he can tell you how much of an impact the sport has had on his son’s life; the only way he can describe the journey his son has been through.

“His first words were doggy, daddy and hockey, in that order,” Thompson said. “That’s the honest-to-God truth. That’s how much hockey means to him.”

Landon vividly remembers being awoken by his father every Sunday morning at 5 a.m. as a child.

Thompson, his wife, Stacey, and two sons, Landon and Clay, would make the 90-minute trek to Keystone Resort without fail every weekend during the winter.

“I developed a love and passion [for hockey] during those days, outside on the ice,” Landon said.

He would spend as much as six to eight hours skating on the frozen lake. Smith met up with others, playing hockey, tag and even throwing a football from time to time on the pond.

“Landon would skate from the time we got there until the time we dragged him off,” Thompson said, laughing. “It was just a really fun time in life.”

Thompson even remembers how his son used to be very particular about the way skates fit his small feet.

“These aren’t fitting right, let’s just do it all over again,” a young Landon would say to his father.

So Thompson would bend down, untie his son’s skates and start the process all over again. It became something of a ritual. Time and time again, Thompson would adjust the skates on his son’s feet.

“At the time it was a real pain, but it ended up being something I cherish greatly,” Thompson said.

And for Thompson, visions of his son skating on the lake during those sunny winter mornings in Summit County, Colo. are still ever-present in his mind.

They remind him of the times that used to be, and how far his son has come since.

***

Growing up, Landon laid out a very particular set of goals for himself when it came to hockey.

He went to as many Denver University and Colorado Avalanche games as he could. He would sit in the stands and watch the players, hoping that he could be just like them one day.

He formulated a plan during those moments, watching from the stands: He’d play at Denver, then join the Avalanche upon graduation.

Landon was ready to turn the first half of his goal into a reality. He had been recruited by former Denver Head Coach George Gwozdecky and his staff, and was set to join the team in the fall of 2014.

He had flourished in the Eastern Hockey League when he was younger, as he captained the 2009-10 Colorado Thunderbirds’ U-16 team that went on to win a National Championship. He had produced over three seasons in the USHL. All the while, he worked toward playing at Denver.

But when Gwozdecky was fired on April 1, 2013, the program underwent a makeover of large proportions.

Jim Montgomery, Gwozdecky’s successor, informed Landon that he would not play for the team, and his scholarship was being revoked. The team had decided to go in a different direction.

“I could have gone either way with it,” Landon said. “I could have said ‘woe is me,’ I could’ve gotten down on myself. Instead, I used it as motivation.”

He went on to record 83 points, 43 goals and 40 assists, in 58 games for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League in the 2013-14 season.

“[Landon] was an offensive machine,” said Troy Mick, former Head Coach and current Team President of Salmon Arm. “He’s a guy where, every time he’d step on the ice, he’d create goal opportunities. And more times than not, it seemed like we’d score when he was out there.”

Landon was playing on the Silverbacks’ potent first line with Evan Anderson and Alex Gillies, who both currently play for Michigan Tech.

The line of Smith, Gillies and Anderson combined for 92 goals during that 58-game campaign, and Landon went on to win the BCHL’s Most Valuable Player Award.

“When you surround players like Landon with the confidence and opportunity they need, they show their true colors,” Mick said. “That season was the true Landon.”

***

Quinnipiac Associate Head Coach Bill Riga received a phone call in the spring of 2013.

Mick, Riga’s longtime friend, was on the other end.

“Hey, this kid just de-committed from Denver. Are you interested?”

Mick, of course, was talking about Landon, who had just received the bad news from Gwozdecky.

“Before anyone knew, literally that day it happened, [Mick] gave me a call,” Riga said. “I had to fly up to Colorado, meet with Landon and go through the whole process.”

Riga remembers first talking to the forward, who seemed “humble, shy and very quiet” at first.

“He appeared as though he didn’t want to make mistakes,” Riga said. “He wanted to get it right this time, understandably.”

And in that short visit, Riga knew that Landon was a guy he wanted.

“He had great skating ability, a good body and good size, and he really loves to shoot the puck,” Riga said. “We needed people looking to score, and he can really do that.”

Riga convinced the six-foot-one, 190-pound talent to come on an official visit to Quinnipiac. When Landon visited in November of 2013, he loved everything about the school, including the TD Bank Sports Center, the Bobcats’ players, the coaching staff and the education he could receive in Hamden.

“I really liked Landon,” Quinnipiac Head Coach Rand Pecknold said. “When he came in on his visit, and had a lot of schools that were looking at him. I was very impressed with his character, how he carried himself, his demeanor. I thought he’d be a great fit for our locker room and our culture here.”

On Jan. 2, 2014, Landon announced his commitment to Quinnipiac.

“My goalies joked that they were happy he was leaving [Salmon Arm], because he used to shoot the puck so hard at them during practice,” Mick said. “When he comes down the weak side of the ice and lets one go, it’s really something to see.”

***

Before Landon arrived at Quinnipiac, he got a chance he had been waiting his whole life for.

It was an invite from the Colorado Avalanche to attend to the team’s prospect camp—a chance to skate as a member of the team he idolized growing up.

So he packed his bags and made the short commute to Centennial’s Family Sports Center in early July. He had made the drive dozens of times before, even more times than some of the veterans on the Avalanche roster. But this was different. This time, he wouldn’t watch from the stands.

“It was a dream come true,” Landon said. “It was incredible to see the work it takes to get to that level.”

The invite didn’t come as a surprise for most. Smith had just dominated the BCHL, and was headed to one of the country’s premier college hockey programs of recent years.

There was a constant flow of people during the 2013-14 season looking to talk to Smith about his future, Mick said. But he never let it get in the way. He was always on time, always at the Salmon Arm fundraising events helping the kids.

“He’s truly someone you can look up to as a young hockey player,” Mick said. “He leads by example, and I’m just really proud of him as a young man.”

And for Landon, finally getting the chance to experience a professional camp was something long overdue.

“It’s cool to look back at and see what could be in store for the future,” he said.

***

Landon arrived in Hamden as a quiet, determined person.

He was on the heels of a record-setting season in the BCHL and an unforgettable experience at an NHL camp, yet still adamant on making sure he performed well during his first college hockey experience.

On Oct. 18, he showed everyone on hand at the TD Bank Sports Center exactly what he was capable of.

The freshman scored twice in a 3-3 tie to UMass Lowell, the first two goals of his collegiate career.

“He’s highly talented and he’s skilled,” Pecknold said. “He’s also very accountable, which is important for anyone in life. I’m very excited about the progress he’s made in just a couple of months.

In the first period, senior Matthew Peca skated down the far side of the ice and dumped the puck in front of the goal to Sam Anas. Anas deflected the puck to Smith, who drilled a one-timer past River Hawks’ goalie Kevin Boyle to tie the game 1-1 in the first period. Then, in the third period, Smith backhanded a loose puck past Boyle to give the Bobcats a 3-2 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.

“It’s incredible to be a part of this, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” Smith said. “To be on the ice when the fans are going nuts, there are no words to describe it.”

For Smith, two goals did more than impact the game’s stat sheet.

“As he’s gotten more comfortable, you see more of a smile on his face,” Riga said. “As he starts to score more goals, you’ll see more relaxation from him.”

Which is a good sign for the Bobcats, Riga added, because Smith’s offensive production is key to the team’s success moving forward.

“We need someone to score goals for us other than Peca and Anas,” Riga said. “We lost plenty of scoring talent after last year, and we know we won’t have Peca forever. Smith is somebody who can add goal-scoring depth to our team.”

And once he gets a full season of Quinnipiac’s strength program under his belt, Riga thinks Smith’s potential is endless.

“He should be dominant for us,” Riga said. “He can sign professionally at any time, but hopefully he’s with us for four years.”

Comments

About Nick Solari

Web Editor
Email: editor@quchronicle.com
Twitter: @solari_nick
Year: 2016
Major: Print journalism