Kyle Smith didn’t grow up in a hockey-playing family. But as soon he was introduced to it, the sport came naturally to him.

Kyle Smith helped Edward Little win state titles in 2003 and 2004, and he earned the Travis Roy Award after his senior season. Portland Press Herald file photo

Part of that came from a passion that was ignited instantly, and that never wavered throughout a career that often found success.

“It was just something that was always, I always loved it and I just always remember having a drive for wanting to be the best that I could be. Whether it was being on the winning team, having our team win, or just working as hard as I could in practice to be first in the skating drills,” Smith said. “Whatever it was, I just always remember having a passion to do my best, essentially.”

That determination served Smith well when he entered the Edward Little High School program in the fall of 2000.

“I just remember being very excited, being four years younger than the senior players, looking up to a lot of guys. There was some good players, not only on Edward Little, but in St. Dom’s program at the time,” Smith said. “I just remember wanting so badly to be able to play with them and play at that level.”

One of those older players was Josh Benson, who was two grades ahead of Smith. When Smith was a sophomore, Benson became the first Red Eddie to win the Travis Roy Award as the top senior player in Class A.

“Josh and I were always close growing up from a young age. And having seen him achieve that success definitely motivated me,” Smith said. “I just always wanted to do the best that I could, so having seen him accomplish that goal of his, it definitely, from my perspective, put achieving that goal within reach.”

Before Smith could dream of claiming his own senior award, there were first team goals to achieve. The Red Eddies had playoff letdowns during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and Smith said that lit a fire under the team going into his junior year — the first for Smith without Benson.

“Kyle Smith’s class was a very strong class of juniors in ’03. (Former head coach) Dave (Boucher) and (assistants) Tom (St. Onge) and Larry (Morin) and others had done such a great job building that program,” said Jamie Belleau, who took over from Boucher prior to the 2002-03 season. “If you look before ’03, there were some very good teams, EL was very competitive. They were kind of on the cusp.”

Kyle Smith capped his high school career by leading Edward Little to the 2004 state title and then winning the Travis Roy Award. Sun Journal file photo

With Smith and his large group of classmates now upperclassmen, the Red Eddies finally broke through, winning the program’s first state title, 4-2, over North Yarmouth Academy.

“It was pretty euphoric. At the time it felt like a lifetime of work, with, at that age, in a sense, the ultimate goal in winning a championship,” Smith said.

“It was really a huge sense of accomplishment,” Smith added. “And I just recall, it felt as though at the time the community was really involved and rallying around, and exciting for the whole city. It was a pretty accomplished feeling.”

The state championship, the school’s first, wasn’t the happy ending to the story of Smith and that group of Red Eddies. They followed up that state title with another, more dominant championship run in 2004. Smith, according to Belleau, was clearly a leader on that team, and wearing the captain’s “C” reflected that.

“Kyle was like if you take the best player on a team now, everybody’s focusing on him. So everybody knew who Kyle Smith was, and his teammates, but he was a top point-getter and a captain on the team and a leader on the team. And he was consistent,” Belleau said. “His emotions, he’s very soft-spoken, for a kid who has had that much success as a high school student. I remember always thinking his maturity was very good. He was soft-spoken, he was a good teammate. He just did all the little things right and he was very consistent.

“There was rarely a game, if you look at his points … he didn’t get flustered. And to have those sort of intangibles to complement his skill, and then on top of it being a target day in and day out, you know, it’s a special player. Which is one of the reasons why we had such success as a team, because he was a leader with that type of skill set and he was a good teammate, and that’s why he won the Travis Roy Award.”

Smith finished his senior season with 105 points (58 goals, 47 assists). He racked up all those points despite he and linemates Colby Gilbert and Joel Pepin not playing some third periods, according to Gilbert, who called their line “unmatched” in 2004.

“Joel was kind of the speedster on that line,” Belleau said. “Not very big, but extremely aggressive, a lot of tenacity, good speed, good strength on the puck. Colby was a game-changer. Any single time, Colby could change the game at any moment, and had obviously good size, good skill and good offensive ability.

“And Kyle was the mainstay. Kyle did everything right. Kyle was big, he was strong, good skater, quick release on his shot, good leader, very soft-spoken. You’d never know he put up the amount of points that he put up. And just always consistent in every facet of the game.”

Smith and Gilbert started playing together at the mites level, Smith estimated, though Gilbert did play for another youth program before the duo reconnected in high school.

Smith said the pair were great friends and that they were both competitive.

“The summer going into the senior year, we both played on the Northern New England Hockey Night in Boston team, and we had really developed a further chemistry at that point. We were really clicking, we were really both playing well, we knew each other well on the ice. To be playing at that high level throughout the summer and then come into the high school season, it was kind of seamless,” Smith said. “We were both competitive, both individually and on the team level, and we had a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun, in that sense. There was a sense of pressure to accomplish and be the best team, but the way that we were able to do it that year was a lot of fun.”

North Yarmouth Academy goalie Nick Smith (36) blocks a shot from Edward Little High School forward Kyle Smith (3) during a 2003 game at Travis Roy Arena in Yarmouth. Sun Journal file photo

Smith and Gilbert benefitted from playing with each other (Gilbert, for his part, put up 96 points in 2003-04) but that didn’t stop Smith from taking home the Travis Roy Award, which he said was a surprise, considering some of the other players in the running. The other finalists were NYA’s Dan Bartlett, who later played at Princeton, and Mark Rogers, who was drafted fifth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2004 Major League Baseball draft.

“They both did very well, and to have been up there with them in and of itself was a privilege, I suppose you could say,” Smith said.

“I think the Travis Roy Award, for me, was just a byproduct of the success of our team,” Smith added. “I always wanted to do the best that I could do. The Travis Roy Award was great, and I’m proud of that, but the real sense of accomplishment, I think, was the team championship and being able to celebrate that with everybody.”

It was at that point that Smith and his 11 Edward Little classmates went their separate ways. For Smith, next up was a year of junior hockey split between the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs and Portland Jr. Pirates.

“When he was in high school, he was getting a lot of attention (from colleges). He wanted to get out and get another year experience because, at that point, and I think it’s still that way now, most college hockey player freshmen in Division III are 20 years old,” said Jeff Beaney, University of Southern Maine’s coach at the time who now coaches Portland/Deering. “So I just remember him at EL. The two (Smith and Colby Gilbert) kind of dominated stuff. But I knew he was going to be a good, solid Division-III player.”

“I think from a hockey perspective it was definitely important (to play a year of junior hockey),” Smith said. “At the time … players entering the college level were all a year or two — they’re not your traditional college freshmen — so they were all a year or two older than your typical freshmen. So, I think, from a physical, developmental standpoint, I think it was very important. And I do think at the time it could have even been more beneficial to do an additional year, but I made the decision to not do that at the time.”

Edward Little’s Kyle Smith starts the game off with a goal past Saint Dom’s goalie Brady Blackman early in the first period of a game at the Central Maine Civic Center in Lewiston in 2004. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Beaney got to see more of Smith during his half-season stint with the Jr. Pirates, and in a way he was lucky to get Smith to come to USM.

“With a couple of different options, I suppose, on where to go from there, (I) had kind of made the decision that an in-state education made the most sense for me at that time, both financially and with not necessarily being 100% sure in what I wanted to do in my career. The business school at USM made good sense,” said Smith, who was also looking at Bowdoin, Colby, Williams College in Massachusetts, and Army in West Point, New York.

At USM, Smith was in some ways back to square one as a freshman.

“I guess it was very similar to the rest of my career, in that entering in I knew, being a freshman, being a 19-year-old freshman and there’s 23-year-olds on the team, being kind of starting from scratch again and having to prove myself,” Smith said. “That was always the motivator for me, is that I wanted to be out there, I wanted to contribute. I just remember every day, every practice, every game, with that in mind, wanting to prove myself so that I would be out there and I would be contributing in a capacity.”

Lewiston’s Colby Dufour, top, and Edward Little’s Ryan Binette collide during the Class A East regional final in March 2004. The Red Eddies defeated the Blue Devils, 3-2, and went on to claim their second consecutive state championship. Sun Journal file photo

Contribute he did, putting up a respectable 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 25 games as a freshman, good enough for fifth-best on the team.

“He was on one of our top lines for probably a month, he filled in, and he was playing with (Mark Carragher), who should have been player of the year, and (Smith) was able to step right in and play with, at the time, one of top two or three forwards in the ECAC East,” Beaney said. “But what helped him was he just is an honest hockey player. He could do everything really pretty well, and he made a commitment to find a way to help us.”

Smith earned his coach’s trust early in his career.

“You have to make some decisions at the end — who you want on the ice, whether you’re up by a goal or down by a goal in the last minutes of the game. And he was able to position himself, even as a freshman, to be on the ice in the real crucial times. So I was pretty impressed that he was able to transition through,” Beaney said. “And what helped him was, also, which shouldn’t go by, is his personality. I mean, he wanted to get better, he was always in great shape, always had a smile. So, therefore, the kids really kind of enjoyed having him around as a hockey player.”

Smith’s points dipped to 14 as a sophomore, but he and the Huskies made their biggest mark during Smith’s junior season. Smith scored a career-high 13 goals to go along with 10 assists, and the Huskies started the season 10-0-1 and broke into the top 10 in the national rankings for the first time.

“It was interesting, I suppose, because there was some pretty unique parallels to EL,” Smith said. “When I had entered into USM, the teams had always been good teams but could never quite break through to that championship, or making it to the national tournament. So entering, I kind of had that as a goal … helping the program or wanting the program to get to that level. We did not get to that level, but we did have, for the first time, I think it was my junior year, we had broken into the national rankings.”

The Huskies, however, were beset with injuries after that, and finished that season 14-9-3, bowing out in the conference quarterfinals.

“We were kind of dominant early on (Kyle’s junior year), but offense was easy,” Beaney said. “We had to kind of transition and change, and it just shows about him, for Kyle it was never about the points, it was about the team success, and finding things within himself, how he helped his team. And not a lot of players can do that.”

Edward Little’s Kyle Smith starts the game off with a goal past Saint Dom’s goalie Brady Blackman early in the first period of a game at the Central Maine Civic Center in Lewiston in 2004. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Beaney noted that he asked Smith to change his role at the height of his USM career

“He went from kind of having an offensive position in the forward lines. His responsibility more became about protecting everybody else on the ice defensively, as well as contributing offensively. So he wasn’t just the first guy in facing the puck and banging around, he had to really become integral in being responsible, working with the defensemen,” Beaney said. “I guess in the NHL it would be like playing center and being the low guy in the defensive zone. And kind of key in our system, it was to me the most important position. And Kyle made a few sacrifices.

“It was a little tough sell his junior year, but then he realized that the puck always ended up coming to him because he was always the high guy in the offensive zone, with the two defensemen. But he was so conscientious. I mean, he was our best penalty-killer.”

Smith’s points dipped again his senior year, to 14, but he notched 10 assists for the third time at USM. His importance to the program only solidified, however, and he left USM having made his mark.

“When Kyle committed, I thought it was huge for the program at USM because he was really the first of the really good, good Maine players we finally started to get that were developed in the state. And a lot of them may have gone away to play juniors for a year or two, but came back and played in the state, and had an impact,” Beaney said. “That really kind of made it all right. We’ve had a lot of good, solid run of players from Maine in that time that played a lot and did extremely well in the league for us. But he almost made it OK to go play for USM as a Maine person.”

Smith’s decision to go to USM was made not only for his immediate playing future, but for his life beyond college — and hockey.

“For me, I think part of my decision going to USM was that realization … just kind of like there’s going to be something else in store for me after hockey,” Smith said. “It’s not going to be a career path for me, so for my perspective at that time, going to an in-state school with in-state tuition, being able to continue to play hockey at a competitive level for another four years while having a reputable business school to study at, I think was kind of my mindset at that point in time.

“When I graduated at USM, I had a handful of friends that were playing low-level professional, so it was an option, but it was something that for me at that time, I knew it wasn’t the end goal. I wasn’t going to be making a career out of it, so I started working towards what was going to be next.”

He started that next phase before his hockey career even ended. An internship with State Farm Insurance during college led him into his post-playing career.

“Ultimately my goal was to be a small business owner, open my own office. The managers at that time (of my internship) had kind of indicated that that was a good place to start and learn the business, learn the company,” Smith said. “So I did an insurance claim representative for three, four years and then moved into an agency training program at that point in time, did that for a year, and opened up an office a year later.”

Kyle Smith currently lives in Topsham and works at State Farm Insurance in Brunswick. Submitted photo

He still works for State Farm, with an office in Brunswick, across the bridge from his current hometown of Topsham. He now has two sons, and the older one is starting to get into hockey.

“I had actually got him involved this winter with hockey, but COVID’s thrown a little wrench in that. I did build a little rink for him last winter and we skated around a little bit. So he’s on the ice now,” Smith said. “So I guess I would say I’ve taken some years off, but am excited to — if he enjoys it — I’m excited to kind of get back out there with him.”

The former star right wing played a little men’s league hockey after USM, which he said was surprisingly pretty competitive, but his budding business career was more important. Smith said he would like to get into coaching with his son (something Belleau, now Lewiston’s head coach, said he has tried to convince Smith to try in the past), but he sees himself helping out more from the sidelines than leading the charge behind the bench.

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