Nov 16, 2006, 12:38 PM EST
(CP) - A puck in the face has altered Jordan Smith's priorities.
It took only a second to happen, and it changed his life. Skating for the Portland Pirates in an AHL game in Maine last Feb. 24 in his rookie pro season, Smith was struck by a deflected puck. "I was in front of the net and the puck came up and struck me in the eye," he recalls.
He lost sight in his left eye, which forced him to reassess his future.
The NHL had been his goal, and he had all the tools to get there. The six-foot-two, 220-pound defenceman was selected in the second round of the 2005 NHL entry draft by the Anaheim Ducks after finishing his junior career with his home-city Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
After the frightful injury, he came to accept the reality that he'd be better off choosing a different career. So, he decided to become a teacher, and now he'll attend Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., for the schooling that will someday put him in a classroom - and allow him to play hockey again.
He'll begin his hockey comeback in January with the varsity Thunderwolves. Coach Pete Belliveau has him pencilled in for a Jan. 5 game in Windsor, and Smith is excited about the prospect.
"It was an unfortunate injury but I don't hold a grudge," Smith said in an interview. "I love the game of hockey and it is still my passion.
"What hurt me the most was not being able to pursue my dream, but I'm thrilled I have a chance to continue to play."
Smith's injury compelled the AHL to introduce a mandatory visor law this season.
"You play in the AHL to move up (to the NHL) and, with my scenario, I wasn't going to have much of a chance to move up," Smith said in explaining his new direction. "I know now that the NHL is out of my future so the smartest choice for me is to get an education."
He's not ruling out another stab at the pro game, but his focus is on getting an education now, and helping Lakehead win the Canadian intercollegiate title.
"They have a great program and I'm thrilled to be part of it," he said from the Soo. "It's going to be a good fit for me, being up north where I'm from."
Belliveau went to the Soo to meet Smith last month and talk about him playing for the Thunderwolves. Belliveau has experience coaching a player with a sight deficiency. In junior in Moncton 27 years ago, his top scorer was Gary Roy, who'd lost the sight in an eye.
He hit it off with Smith immediately.
"He's a man of character and he'll be a great addition to our program," said Belliveau.
Smith will have a full five years of college hockey eligibility, so Belliveau will give him a key role into the next decade. The Thunderwolves are already one of the best teams in college hockey. They are the defending champions of the 16-team Ontario conference and CIS national silver medallists.