Saskatoon Blades centre Chase Wouters, who is ranked 92nd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, will graduate from Lloydminster Comprehensive High School at around the same time as the NHL Entry Draft.
Hockey can only get someone so far.
Lloydminster’s Ty Smith and Chase Wouters are expected to go in the first and third rounds, respectively, of next month’s NHL Entry Draft, but the duo are not relying on the game of hockey as a path to future success. Smith and Wouters have committed to excelling in the classroom as well as on the ice.
Smith maintained a 3.57 Grade Point Average since moving south of the border to play for the Spokane Chiefs two years ago. The five-foot-10 and 170-pound defenceman earned the team’s Scholastic Player of the Year award both seasons and captured the WHL Western Conference Scholastic Player of the Year award following the 2017-18 campaign.
He won the Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year early this month. Wouters, as the WHL’s Eastern Conference Scholastic Player of the Year, provided his competition.
“Once my general manager told me that I was up for it and I was representing the West, I wasn’t too surprised about Chase in the East,” said Smith, 18, who is ranked 14th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting ahead of the June 22-23 NHL Entry Draft. “He’s a good kid in the classroom and a hard worker all the time.”
Smith said playing in the WHL as a 16- and 17-year-old is tough because the majority of their teammates and competitors are aged 18, 19 or 20 and focused mainly on treating their bodies and playing hockey. He said a high school player has to go to class every weekday morning no matter what if they want to practise with the team and get into the lineup.
“I definitely owe a lot of credit to the Spokane Chiefs and our education advisor Joe Everson,” he said. “I had two great tutors who were always there for me and even Lisa Spence in Lloydminster, she’s been helping me, she works at the (Lloydminster Comprehensive High School), and she works with Joe really closely. They really help me out trying to make sure my classes line up and transfer over so I don’t have to stress out about that.”
Wouters posted plus-80 per cent grades in Math Foundations 20, Math Pre-Calculus 30, Chemistry 30, History 30: Canadian Studies and English Language Arts A30 as a second-year centre with the Saskatoon Blades this past season. He also notched the Blades’ Hardest Worker and Defensive Forward of the Year awards and is ranked 92nd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into the draft.
“I take academics pretty seriously,” said Wouters, 18, noting Blades education advisor Kim Herbert along with all of his teachers at Saskatoon’s Marion M. Graham Collegiate provided invaluable help throughout the season. “And the team takes it seriously, so it’s good that way. It’s just an honour to be recognized and it’s pretty cool to go up against Ty.”
This past season marked a breakout for both Wouters and Smith on the ice as well as in the classroom. Wouters set career highs in goals with 18 and points at 51 while suiting up in all 72 regular season games for the Blades, while Smith tallied 14 goals and 73 points in 69 contests to place second among all WHL defenceman in scoring.
Wouters said a strong summer working with Kyle Tapp at Innovative Hockey Development and Toby Clayton with Clayton Conditioning leading into the season helped him get faster and stronger. The six-foot and 176-pound Lloydminster Minor Hockey Association product said the Blades then gave him an opportunity to take on more responsibility leading the team.
Smith credited the help of Chiefs former head coach Don Nachbaur and current bench boss Dan Lambert as well as longtime assistant Scott Burt for always leaving their door open to watch video about what to do on the ice with and without the puck and being there to show the proper way to play in practice. He said not worrying about the draft coming up at the end of the season and all the social media leading up to it also helped.
“The biggest thing I tried to do is have fun the whole year and hockey is fun to me,” said Smith, who earned his high school diploma shortly before leaving Spokane in early-to-mid April. “Having fun was my main goal (along) with winning games, just enjoying the season and constantly trying to get better. I thought that if I just worried about those things my play would just kind of follow that and I wouldn’t have to worry about the draft stuff at all.”
The prospect of having his name called by an NHL team still doesn’t seem to faze Smith despite the days quickly counting down to the event. The same can be said for Wouters with both emphasizing that they’ll be there for each other whatever happens.
“We still talk basically every day,” said Wouters, whose graduation from Lloydminster Comprehensive High School will roughly coincide with the NHL Entry Draft. “We grew up together and always played with each other, so we’re really still close friends. It’s good to have a guy like Ty to talk to when you need someone to talk to about hockey. It means a lot.”