CANMORE – For hockey players like Maguire Smyth, the Canmore Eagles newest signee, the odds were stacked up against the 17-year-old over the past 16 months.
COVID-19 had struck and the virus shut down training and ice-time and finding the motivation to keep pressing forward came to a screeching halt for many teen athletes.
But the determined ones, like Smyth, a six-foot-three, 190-pound forward, found a way to put in the work and get better – and in the rookie's case – there was a "massive jump" in his development.
"I think I found a way to motivate myself and to keep on pushing," said Smyth, who now calls Dead Man's Flats home. "It was definitely hard at times. I had to find that grit."
His mindset of hard work and not taking the easy route symbolizes how the big power forward plays – a hard and heavy game where he's willing to do the dirty work to have success.
"I think I'm good at chasing pucks down and just being relentless on pucks and trying to win those small battle areas," he said. "I want to leave it all out on the ice and be a guy my teammates can rely on."
In four games with the Red Deer Chiefs U18 AAA last season, Smyth scored one goal and had three points.
Smyth's been on the Eagles radar as a AA and AAA player in Red Deer, but like many players his age, the notion of being scouted during COVID-19 was farfetched.
This past July, the AJHL's inaugural prospect showcase was held in Edmonton. For the Eagles staff in attendance, the forward recaptured their attention.
"What had happened from a scouting perspective is our group had seen him play [two seasons ago] and there was a massive jump in his development," said Andrew Milne, the Eagles head coach and general manager. "If a player is showing huge jumps that means during the COVID situation he put in the time. He worked, he put in an effort to get better and become a better player and that's the way our entire staff viewed it when we had him in Edmonton."
A few days after the showcase, the Eagles connected with Smyth, who Milne called a mature player and is a good fit for the team, to begin the process of bringing him aboard.
For Smyth, playing in Canmore is not only an opportunity to test limits and compete at a higher level, but it's the area where his family's history began in hockey.
Smyth is the son of ex-NHLer and Banff's Kevin Smyth and nephew of "Captain Canada" Ryan Smyth, an Olympic gold medallist who played 19 seasons in the NHL, most notably for the Edmonton Oilers.
Inside the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, the Smyths are honoured with a display case shrine for their achievements.
"I think it's pretty cool that I'm going to be able to play at a pretty high level pretty close to where my dad and my uncle grew up," he said. "I don't like to necessarily compare myself to them, but yeah, I definitely think it's cool and I think it's a good opportunity for me."
The puck drops for the regular season on Sept. 17 when Canmore takes on the Olds Grizzlys in an away game.
On Sept. 18, the Eagles face off against the Calgary Canucks in the home opener at 7 p.m.