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At Ryan, hockey is a family affair

Bensalem’s Connor Smith, a senior on the Archbishop Ryan ice hockey team, is being coached by his father

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Connor Smith
Connor Smith

Connor Smith didn’t find out until it was a done deal.

Smith is a senior on the Archbishop Ryan High School ice hockey team, and the program recently went through a bit of a change.

It lost its coach and numbers were down after seeing a lot of its players graduate. The program needed some new faces, and more than anything, a coach to help guide the program through the transition.

He knew the new coach very well.

“My dad is the head coach, I guess I like him a lot,” Smith said, jokingly. “I didn’t know he was going to be the coach. He never played hockey, but he’s a hockey guy, he loves the sport, watching it and he wanted us to have a coach.

“Last year was different, we didn’t have enough players to play in the Catholic League, so we just played, but not in the league. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but it was good. We played, got better and worked hard. It will only help us.”

This year, things are back to normal.

Well, as normal as things can be in the era of coronavirus.

Smith, a defenseman from Bensalem, is happy to be back in the Catholic League. And even though the season started a little later than it normally does, he’s happy they are on the road for his final campaign.

And this year, the Raiders have some reinforcements.

“The Catholic League was generous enough to allow us to have some players from MaST Charter play, so it really helped us with the numbers,” Smith said. “It’s great to have them. It’s hard, before we had a varsity team and a JV team. I swung my freshman year, playing JV and varsity, and it was good because I got to play a lot.

“It’s helping a lot. It’s taking some time to get used to playing together, but that’s normal. They’re really good players, and we’re learning to play together. It’s been good so far, and I think it’ll get better the more we play.”

Ryan opened with a victory on opening night, a triumph over Garnet Valley on Jan. 15. The Raiders were idle last week, which might not be unusual this year because teams are finding it hard to get ice time for games.

“This year hasn’t been too bad, but there are a lot of changes because of COVID,” Smith said. “Some rinks make us wear masks when we get there, some make us wear them when we’re playing, but that’s not too bad. We can’t use the locker rooms, so we have to get dressed outside. That’s the worst part about this year, because you get dressed not wearing a lot and it’s so cold. But as long as we can play, I’ll be happy.”

This is a big year for Smith. Not only is he going to be counted on to be a top player on the ice, he’s now responsible for things off the ice after he was named captain.

It’s a role he grew into. Last year, he was an alternate captain, and he’s ready to take the next step.

In fact, his former teammate picked him for the honor.

“The way Ryan does it is last year’s captain picks this year’s captain and (Anthony Hearn) picked me,” Smith said. “It’s a really big honor. It was something that was a goal of mine when I started as a freshman, and I love the team, so it’s important to me to be the captain. I want to be a leader and lead us on and off the ice. It’s a big honor and means a lot to me.”

That’s one goal down. He is now focusing on the other.

“The biggest goal when I got here was to win a Catholic League championship, and we got pretty close my sophomore year when we made it to the semifinals,” Smith said. “This year, I think we could be pretty good. We have good players.

“The MaST kids are really going to help. I became really close with Ryan Kohler, he’s the other captain. I (played against) him a lot in club hockey, he was one of the fast guys I had to keep up with. He’s good. They’ll really help us.”

Smith wants to make some memories this year because it’s likely the final year he’ll be playing for his school. Next year, he’ll attend Penn State, which has a Division I team. He will, however, look to join a club team in State College.

“I’ve always wanted to go there, I would watch football with my dad and I loved it,” said Smith, who will go in undecided, but could study something in cybersecurity. “Then I went for a visit and I just loved it. It’s a great campus, it’s a great school. Good reputation.”

He hopes he loves it as much as he loves his high school.

“Ryan is great, there weren’t a lot of people from my grade school going there, there were a few, but once I got there I loved it,” Smith said. “It’s been great academically, it’s been great for sports. I’m really happy I went there.

“I’m glad we’re getting a chance for a hockey season. We weren’t sure if we would have one with everything, but now we’re playing, so everything is going great.”

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