Matthew Smith, Victoria Royals look to halt skid at home of the Blades

Matthew Smith wears Royals blue but bleeds Saskatchewan green.

Watching Roughriders Canadian Football League games with dad Wes Smith played a big role in family life growing up in Saskatoon.

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So did attending Blades games in the Western Hockey League. Royals defenceman Matthew Smith returns to SaskTel Centre, where he spent much of his youth, tonight when Victoria meets the Blades in WHL action.

“This place was a big part of my childhood,” said Smith.

“It’s going to be nice to have so many family and friends in the stands. I am looking forward to it.”

The Royals are in the Western Conference and visit the Eastern Division teams only once every two years. So despite being in his third season as a Royals blue-line mainstay, this is just Smith’s second career WHL game in Saskatoon. He remembers well the first one as a Royals rookie in 2017-18: “We won 6-3.”

Smith’s connection to the league is a unique one. His father was a linesman in the WHL for 12 seasons, so the younger Smith pretty much grew up immersed in WHL stories. Now he is writing one of his own. He had a lot of things going against him heading just into the first chapter. Smith was undersized and only a seventh-round selection by the Royals in the 2015 WHL bantam draft and came to a completely different West Coast environment than the one he was used to on the prairies. But the third-year WHL blue-liner has been a steady progresser on the Island.

“I worked hard at it, especially my strength and conditioning,” he said.

“And I had great older blue-line mentors in Victoria such as Chaz Reddekopp [now with Ontario Reign of the AHL], Ralph Jarratt and Kade Jensen [now both with Mount Royal University of U Sports]. We’ve always had a good defensive core.”

It’s Smith’s turn now to mentor the more youthful Royals defencemen.

“I try to be a good role model for the younger guys and impart on them the culture of the club,” said the five-foot-11, 180-pound rearguard.

The undrafted Smith turns 20 in April and knows the next stage of his career will soon be at hand. He said he hasn’t ruled out any options, from pro to U Sports.

“I work hard every night and try to get noticed,” Smith said.

The Royals (25-17-3) are hoping to stem a four-game losing streak against the Blades (23-19-4) after an 8-1-1 run.

“We’ve turned the page and moved past the last four games,” said Smith.

“We believe if we play the right way, and play our game, we can beat any team in the league.”

Beating the Blades, in his hometown tonight, would be the sweetest victory of all.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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