After four years behind the bench with his hometown Ontario Hockey League team, Jordan Smith is moving on to the professional ranks.
The 36-year-old has been hired by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues to join their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, as an assistant coach.
It’s been an emotional stretch for the Sault product, who said the opportunity to join Springfield came along quickly.
“I don’t think there’s ever a good time to go,” Smith said. “It’s if the opportunity arises.”
“It’s exciting,” Smith added. “Obviously, I really enjoyed my time here. It was an honour to be able to coach here, having played. Having been able to come back and coach [the Greyhounds] means a lot to me. Probably more than I could put into words.”
Smith called the opportunity to join Springfield an exciting one.
“Obviously, it’s the next step being in the American Hockey League and one step away from the National Hockey League, which is my end goal,” Smith said.
Smith joins a Springfield coaching staff that includes another former Greyhounds player/coach in Drew Bannister along with former Greyhounds goalie coach Dan Stewart.
Bannister joined Springfield prior to last season and led the Thunderbirds to an appearance in the AHL final. Stewart joined the team in March of 2021.
The Thunderbirds staff also includes Sault product Chris Thorburn, who is a player development coach with the Blues organization.
“When you’re going to be dealing with these guys that know you, it makes it easier to transition into a new staff,” Smith said.
Smith the relationships he built while with the Greyhounds made the decision to join Springfield “bittersweet.”
“It was just an unbelievable staff to work with,” Smith said. “I learned a lot from Deaner [Greyhounds coach John Dean]. He made me a better coach in terms of some facets that I was lacking as a coach at the time. He helped me develop into the coach I am today.
“Tards [assistant coach Jamie Tardif] and I go back to Under-17 and playing against each other throughout our careers,” Smith added. “It was great coming to the rink every day. Even through the times we were struggling, it was still good to come to the rink every day. That’s the atmosphere you want to be a part of.”
Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis talked about the excitement for the team when a staff member gets a professional opportunity and how it resembles the feeling when a player gets that opportunity as well.
“A lot of these guys in my tenure here have had opportunities year-in and year-out,” Raftis said. “What I’m always excited about for them is when they don’t just jump to one opportunity. They wait and then when they’re excited for an opportunity for them too. It’s something that you want everybody committed to the Greyhounds and doing the best job they can to move the organization forward. As soon as another opportunity comes that they’re excited about, then you want to support them no different than any player.”
Smith joined the Greyhounds in the summer of 2018, hired by the club as an associate coach after Joe Cirella left the same position that summer to take a coaching position with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
The hiring came after Smith had completed his first season with the Sudbury Wolves, serving in the same role while working with Cory Stillman.
Smith said he has tried to take a little bit from every coach he’s worked with and played for along the way to better his craft.
“It was especially during the challenges last season with COVID and how the lengths that everyone was going through to make sure that these guys had a season and games to play,” Smith said. “It’s a really professional league. Even though it’s the OHL and it’s junior, it’s no secret that it’s a business. It’s fun to be a part of it."
Prior to joining the Wolves for the 2017-18 season, Smith spent four seasons behind the bench with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds from 2013 to 2017 after spending one season with the Superior International League’s Thunder Bay North Stars.
The news of Smith joining Springfield comes as the Greyhounds continue preparations for training camp, which is scheduled to open on Aug. 30.
Raftis said the team will look for “someone who can handle the defence at the very core of it.”
“With the timing of everything, we’d like to get started on [the hiring process] very quickly in terms of finding the right person,” Raftis added. “It’s been pretty good in terms of people reaching out, but we want to make sure we go through the process and find the right fit for the staff. When you have some people already in place, you want to make sure you have someone that compliments them and that can push them as well.”