Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – If you google 'Dallas Smith' looking for information on the MacEwan men's hockey forward, you'll get a lesson in country music.
The far more famous Canadian artist with the same name also fronts alternative rock band Default.
Dallas Smith of the Griffins isn't completely sure, but wonders if he doesn't get occasionally mistaken for the singer on social media.
"Sometimes there will be certain people who will follow me on Instagram, random people I don't know," he said. "It happens to a lot of people, but maybe some are looking up the name Dallas Smith on Instagram and have accidentally mistaken me for him. I'm not sure."
At any rate, don't expect Smith to bust out a riff for the fans at the Downtown Community Arena. Instead, he'll let his play do the singing when the Griffins host the UAlberta-Augustana Vikings on Friday (7 p.m.) before travelling to Camrose for the rematch on Saturday (6 p.m., Encana Arena).
Using his speed and savvy veteran hockey IQ, Smith has nine goals and 19 points in 18 games in this, his final Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season.
"Dallas is the type of player who always brings you a high level of compete," said MacEwan Griffins head coach Michael Ringrose. "He can skate and he gets after it. So, he's relentless when it comes to fore-checking and pursuit of the puck. Last year, I thought he was a little bit snake bitten and this year, right from the start, pucks just seem to be going for him. As a result, he's gotten more of an opportunity and really taken advantage of that.
"He's really found a lot of chemistry with (Jacob) Schofield and (Kaelan) Holt. They've been a line for us from pretty much the start of the year. The three of them, if I look at the body of work throughout the season, it's pretty easy to look at them as our most consistent unit."
The trio has combined for 51 points in 2018-19. Smith feels the key is how well they work as a unit in the opposition's zone.
"I've really enjoyed playing with them," he said. "They just work so hard down low, so it makes my game easier. They work hard in the corners and win battles and that really contributes to our success together. We're able to cycle the puck in the O-zone and keep a team hemmed in. Later on in the period, it shows. It gets a little easier as the game goes on if you're working hard in their zone."
The Beaumont product played for four different teams over three seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League between 2011-14 – Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Whitecourt and Drumheller. Although he was recruited to MacEwan early in his final season with the Dragons, he didn't make the decision to go until a month before the Griffins got going for the 2014-15 ACAC season.
All that was left was an open tryout. He won a spot, of course, joining a mediocre program that finished a game above .500 and was dumped in the first round the previous season.
What a difference a breadth of a career makes. Smith has since been a part of two-straight Griffins championship teams as the program has grown into a powerhouse.
"From that year on, I really think the players that we got in my year was really the turning point for our team," he said of a 2014 rookie class that also included current fifth-year seniors Ryan Baskerville, Nolan Yaremchuk, Matt Waseylenko, Taylor Bilyk and former Griffin Drew Nikirk.
"A lot of us played together before, so we already knew of each other. I think from that point on, it was easier to come to the rink, it was easier to have fun with the guys. There was a lot of good leadership, too," he added. "In my first two years, David Way and Brandan Long – a few of those guys – we really looked up to them and wanted to do well. It was good for us to gel as a team in that sense."
Soon, he and the other fifth-years will play their final games as Griffins, but the legacy Smith and his mates are leaving is as strong as the one the program is leaving to him.
"When I first joined MacEwan, I was really hard on myself," Smith said. "I really focused a lot on negativity and I really wouldn't let things go as well. Having the opportunity to play with some of the older guys and people that came in the same year as me, made me a better player and created a positive outcome to playing hockey.
"I am more worried about how the team is doing and not individually screwing up. I think that's a big part of me maturing and growing as a player."
The Griffins head into the weekend knocking on the door for the top two spots in the ACAC standings – both byes past the first round. At 15-5-1-0, MacEwan is sitting third, a point back of SAIT (16-5-0-0) and five behind NAIT (18-6-0-0), but both the Griffins and Trojans have three games in hand on the Ooks. UAA is right there, as well, in fourth at 14-7-1-0, making this weekend a solid showdown.
Previous meetings between the teams were split with MacEwan winning 8-3 on Nov. 9 before UAA won 2-1 on Nov. 10.
The Griffins managed to soldier through a couple of wins over Concordia their last time out without their best stuff in an emotional first weekend back on the ice since teammate Nakehko Lamothe tragically passed away following a Jan. 25 game.
"As a group, it was important for us to get through last weekend and we did, and we got the results we wanted even though the process maybe lacked the polish we've seen at times here," said Ringrose.
"I think this weekend what we're looking for is a step forward in that sense. We want to see us return to the structure that we can play with, we want to see us continuing to push forward on things like our compete level on faceoffs and in battle situations – our willingness to get to the front of the net and get in front of pucks.
"Those are things that we've shown this year and definitely want to see this weekend."