Photo by Rena Laverty
Ty Smilanic was not yet born when his hometown Colorado Avalanche raised the Stanley Cup in 2001. But his dad Pete was watching, and he passed along his memories and love of the game to his son.
“I actually started as a figure skater for a few months but then really started to play hockey when I was about 4,” Ty said. “No one in my family played hockey; however, my dad saw Joe Sakic lift the Stanley Cup for the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 and he just fell in love with the game of hockey. It was definitely something that I picked up from him.”
Of course, it also helped that his family had season tickets to watch the Avs.
“We had season tickets to the Avs growing up so that definitely sparked my interest right away,” said Smilanic, who grew up in Elizabeth, Colorado. “Last year when I was living in Colorado with my dad, I think went to 34 of the 41 home games. It was a lot of fun and a family tradition. This year, when Colorado played at Detroit, we went as a family so I got to one game this year.”
It should come as no surprise that his childhood idol growing up was Sakic, the former Avalanche captain. Smilanic formed a special bond with Sakic in short order.
“He was a special person in my life,” explained Smilanic. “He taught me that you are not above anyone, you just need to keep work for it.
“He was my coach when I was 8 years old. At that age, I don’t think I really appreciated how great a hockey player he really was. He really showed me the way that you needed to take and he would treat everyone equally and always put a smile on my face. He really made you remember what type of person he was to be around.”
It should be no surprise that Smilanic took these lessons to heart to work on his game.
“When I first started, I was the worst kid on the ice. I just remember what a cool feeling it was to put a shot into the net. I just poured everything I could into the sport and just got better,” he said.
While Smilanic has lived in the Denver area for most of his life, he also has a connection to Michigan, his current home with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
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“We moved to Michigan when I was 12 and then, we moved back to Colorado for two years,” he said. “I did play for Belle Tire and Little Caesars when I was in Michigan.
“My mom and sister moved to Michigan but my dad is still out in Colorado. He definitely gets here on the weekends.”
Smilanic first learned about the NTDP when he was 13 years old. It was a trip to a USA game that had him sold.
“It was my second year here [in Michigan] and I was playing for Little Caesars,” he said. “We visited USA [Hockey] Arena, went to a game and had a tour as a team. I made it a goal then that I wanted to get here. I knew then that I would do whatever it would take to make it happen.”
Fast forward a few years and Smilanic is in his first season with the NTDP. As a member of the Under-17 team, it has been a challenge at times, especially playing against USHL competition. The 6-foot-1, 167-pound forward is already noticing a difference in his game.
“It is definitely a level up and difference last year as the players have speed and size; everything just seems to be enhanced,” said Smilanic, who played for the Colorado Thunderbirds U16 team one year ago. “I think I’m finally getting in the groove and have confidence in myself. That is an advantage especially since we are playing against kids who are 3-4 years older than us.
When I look back to where we are as a team from November to now, it’s just a big difference. You don’t always feel the changes happening. You have been through some long days and it doesn’t seem that anything is happening. To look at where we are now, it’s amazing.
“When I look back to where we are as a team from November to now, it’s just a big difference. You don’t always feel the changes happening. You have been through some long days and it doesn’t seem that anything is happening. To look at where we are now, it’s amazing. It’s in the weight room and practice on the ice is where we are really seeing those improvements on the ice.”
The U17s have 12 USHL contests left, including a home date against the Muskegon Lumberjacks on Friday, Feb. 22. Smilanic understands that it will take a simple formula to have success in this final stretch.
“We need to stick to our identity,” he explained. “When we play as a team and with our game plan, we are hard to beat whether it is in our own age group or the USHL. We can outplay teams in the USHL when we play within ourselves. We have a goal that we want to make a run for the rest of the season.
“Coach [Seth] Appert has been a big part of this year. He is always positive — it doesn’t matter if we lose a game in overtime or a 7-0 defeat. He always reminds us how far we have grown and what we need to still do.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
One thing will never change for Smilanic and that is what an honor it is to put on the USA jersey every day.
“Words just can’t describe how special it is to wear the USA jersey,” he stated. “I still remember the first time I saw the USA jersey hanging up with my family name on the back and the USA crest on the front. It was surreal.”
At the end of the day, it is his family that has played the biggest part in his hockey journey and that it was means the most to him.
“My parents have been a huge part of my hockey success,” stated Smilanic. “They want me to work hard. I have seen how hard they work and I want to make them proud.”
After all, it was his dad that introduced him to the game.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.