SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Chiefs officially announced earlier this week that their season had come to an end.
That also meant several players' times in a Chiefs uniform was also over.
Even though Ty Smith technically has one year left of eligibility, the New Jersey Devils first-round draft pick is most likely headed to the pros.
"We were playing really well going into the playoffs," reflected Smith. "I think we all believed in each other and felt we had a group that could do something special this year."
From the first time Smith took the ice in training camp in 2015, the former No. 1 overall bantam pick has been everything the team could hope for.
"A kid like Ty you don't have to coach very much," said Chiefs Head Coach Manny Viveiros. "We just tried to guide him as much as possible. He does so many things well and the right way on the ice. You just try to help him along the way with corrections, but he's such an easy young man to coach."
Smith came to Spokane as primarily an offensive defenseman, but that would begin to change his rookie season. Then-Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur and assistant Scott Burt paired him up with veteran Tyson Helgesen to play against the top lines in the league.
"He said, 'We could play you less and play you in offensive situations, or we can play you against Barzal (one of the top players ever in the WHL) and play you more, it's up to you.' I said, 'I want to play against Barzal and play more,' and he said, 'You've got to learn how to defend. You're going to have to learn quick, or you're gonna get scored on a lot.'"
Smith would learn the lessons quickly.
After a 32-point rookie season, Smith finished no lower than 4th among league defenseman in scoring. He was honored as the CHL's top defenseman last year, the first Chief to win the award.
Some of his best work may have come this season, as he set a Chiefs record with 8 points in one game against Seattle and was a main reason the Chiefs become one of the top 10 teams in the CHL.
"Once he got back and got a little rested after Christmas time and the World Junior championships, he was absolutely dominant," said Viveiros. "Probably the best player in the WHL as far as I'm concerned, and we had a big run after that. He was a big part of it."
A big part of Smith's success was his partner the last 2 seasons, Noah King.
King would lead the league with a gaudy +60 and would put up a career 40 points in his final kick of the can. It seems fitting those two would exit together as may be the top defensive pairing the Chiefs have ever had.
"He's a great guy and he'll be a good friend for the rest of my life that's for sure. He's pretty solid back there. He's always bugging me that he's always passing to me, but it works good that way," said Smith with a laugh.
Smith will finish his career as the No. 2 scoring defenseman in team history behind Brendan Kichton and 4th in all time assists, just 17 back of leader Ray Whitney.
It wouldn't be hard to argue he's the best defenseman to suit up in a Chiefs sweater and one of the best in WHL history.
"He's got to be ranked up there in the top 3," said Viveiros. "In this league, there's some incredible, unbelievable players. I'd rank him up there in the top 3 for sure."
For the man they call Smitty, it really hasn't set in that his time playing for the Chiefs has come to an end, but he is especially grateful to have called Spokane home these past 4 seasons.
"Spokane's an incredible place to play, and I'm very thankful that's the team that ended up drafting me," said Smith. "I got to play there my entire WHL career, and it's definitely sad that it's coming to an end. I don't think it's set in yet."