By David Kearsey
CORNER BROOK, N.L. – T.J. Smith is back on the ice and playing the game he loves.
Smith, a former player and assistant coach of the Truro Bearcats junior A hockey team, has returned to Newfoundland and is suiting up with the Deer Lake Red Wings of the West Coast Senior Hockey League.
Smith returned to his hometown of St. Anthony, NL in January after his son and the mother of his child moved to Toronto.
“Coming home was something I had to do and so far it’s been good,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what to expect at first, but now that I’ve played a few games it feels good again.”
The 31-year-old is a champion for those struggling with mental health issues after struggling with depression of his own.
While being back home provides him with an avenue to continue shooting around the puck, it also enabled him to establish his mental health business on familiar turf. He’s also been busy passing on his hockey wisdom to young boys and girls on the Northern Peninsula through hockey schools.
Smith joined the coaching staff in Truro last season after stints behind the bench in Yarmouth and Valley. Bearcats coach and GM Shawn Evans said he respects his decision to return home.
“T.J.’s my buddy, he’s my friend – always has been, always will be, and at the end of the day there’s a lot more to life than just hockey, and the number one priority is T.J.’s got to look after himself,” said Evans. “If he decided to come back tomorrow he’d be welcome with open arms.”
Smith, a forward, has been in the lineup for the Red Wings for the past four games and hasn’t looked out of place, despite the fact he’s been away from competitive hockey for a number of years.
Smith likes the concept of local players playing for their community and believes it’s the way to keep senior hockey alive. He remembers times when players went to Newfoundland on weekends and got a fair chunk of change for playing a few games and going back home again.
He was one of them for a couple of years, and admits there were many imports – including himself – who were only motivated by the envelope of cash at the end of the weekend.
“Some were just coming over to get the money. They didn’t really care and didn’t have that much pride in playing,” he said.
Smith starred as a player with the Bearcats from 2004 to 2007. He is fourth in franchise scoring with 97 goals and 84 assists for 181 points. He held the team record for goals in a season with 41 in 2005-06. Last year, fellow Newfoundlander Kyle Tibbo established a new mark with 47.
– With Truro Daily News files