No need for a name bar or number; it will not be hard to tell he is out on the ice from his style.
Constantly working, he is tenacious on the fore-check, relentless on a back-check and, subsequently, finishes all his checks.
In the Sept. 28 game versus UPEI at the Antigonish Arena, with the X-Men holding a comfortable third period lead, he blocked a rocket from the point by a Panther defenceman, hobbled to the bench after his block helped St. F.X. clear the zone, and was back out for his next shift.
It’s that type of work ethic and commitment to details which has seen Antigonish’s Declan Smith eventually assume leadership roles on all the hockey teams he has played for. Attributes St. F.X. X-Men head coach Brad Peddle noted when it was announced, in January, the then captain of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (now just Cape Breton Eagles) would be joining the X-Men program.
“He is dependable in both ends of the rink and is very tough to play against,” Peddle said. “[He is] a fierce competitor who plays a very gritty and honest game.”
Smith talked about returning home to play after spending four seasons in Sydney with the QMJHL club and a couple in Port Hood with the Cape Breton West Major Midget Islanders.
“It’s crazy… it has been a while,” he said.
“I think the last time I was playing in the arena was bantam,” he said, adding that doesn’t include a couple of games with the junior ‘B’ Bulldogs, as a late season call-up from the Islanders.
“It’s really nice to be home; playing in front of family, a lot of friends and making some new ones,” Smith said.
New friends as in new teammates on the 2019-20 X-Men, who are off to strong 3-0 start after a couple of weekends of AUS play.
“I knew Regan Spears really well; I actually lived with him in Port Hood last spring, we lobster-fished from the same port,” Smith said, referring to the veteran X-Men forward from the aforementioned Inverness County community.
“Just from knowing him, I’ve met a lot of the guys on the team during the last few years; so I knew a lot [personally] coming in and I knew of most of the others. I would say knowing ‘pretty well’ six or seven guys coming in.”
On the pretty well list would be fellow Antigonisher and X-Men goaltender Blade Mann-Dixon. The two were teammates in atom, pee wee and bantam before Mann-Dixon left major midget after one season to play junior ‘A’ for the Valley Wildcats, just as Smith was suiting up for the Islanders for his first season in Port Hood.
As for the decision to come to St. F.X. and play for the X-Men, Smith said it was always in the back of his mind.
“Obviously, after junior, I wanted to think about pro as an option, but it doesn’t happen for every player,” he said. “But, again, I’ve always wanted to come here and play, ever since I was little kid. I remember going to St. F.X. hockey camps; I looked up to those players a lot, came to a lot of games and really respected [the program]. I officially made my decision during Christmas break last year.”
Smith noted he is continuing to take business courses at St. F.X., something he did at Cape Breton University last year while playing for the Eagles.
“That is what I’m taking right now,” he said.
As for the difference in the hockey, Smith noted it’s the quality of an AUS roster’s depth, compared to major junior where development of young players is a significant focus.
“Right now, I’m finding everyone is bigger and stronger,” he said. “You’re playing against grown men out there, as opposed to some 16 and 17 year-olds; so it’s a lot faster, with bigger and stronger players.”
And that faster, bigger and stronger line-up includes the Blue and White who have scored 22 goals in their three opening games, while only giving up nine.
“So far, I really like what I’m seeing with the team,” Smith said, noting the X-Men have already developed strong chemistry which can be attributed to the number of players returning, including key leadership players such as captain Mark Tremaine.
“Everyone has the same goal in mind this year … I don’t think I have to say what that is,” Smith said. “I really like the team this year; I think we have a good shot.”
The X-Men are on the road in New Brunswick this weekend for games versus UNB Friday and Moncton Saturday, before returning home to the Keating Centre for games Oct. 25 versus UNB and Oct. 30 against St. Mary’s. Both puck-drops are at 7 p.m.