Back with USPHL’s Blaze, Littleton, Rampage grad Smith looking to get team back on national map
Walker Smith played for the USPHL’s Decatur Blaze during the 2019-20 season before spending a season at the 18U level.
This year, the 2002-born Bailey product is back with the Blaze and looking to make an impact up front for Decatur.
“Coach (Zac) Pearson and I were just in contact during the summer discussing what my plans were for next season, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do this year, but Decatur was always an option for me,” Smith said. “Ultimately, Coach Pearson just let me know that he wanted to have me back this year and I decided to come back because I love the environment and it is close to home.
“I feel like Coach Pearson runs a great program and I really enjoy the way he disciplines his players. He is super big on paying attention to details and I feel like when everyone on the team buys into his system, it’s a winning system. That is why we went to USPHL Nationals my first season here. As far as the league, I feel like this is a league where I can showcase my skill at a high level, and it is fun to be a part of that.”
Coming back to the Blaze is also coming back to familiarity for Smith.
“I knew a few players on the team already before the season,” said Smith. “Austin Floyd is probably the biggest one. We train together back in Colorado, and he was on the team with me our first season in Decatur together. Also, I have friends here and there across the league from previous teams so possibly getting the chance to play against them would be cool.
“I expect to play a huge role on the team this season. My rookie year in Decatur, I was the second-leading scorer on the team behind T.J. Dougan, who was the leading scorer for the USPHL. So this year, I expect to build off of that and hopefully help lead this team back to nationals after an early exit last year.”
Looking back, Smith said he can’t remember getting his start in the game, but certainly remembers his feelings surrounding the game and what keeps him going.
“To be honest with you, I’m not really sure what got my parents to put me into hockey,” Smith said. “My dad grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., playing hockey and lacrosse there so I like to believe that played a role in that. I actually grew up in a suburb north of Atlanta, Ga. I lived in Georgia until I was about 10 and then moved to Colorado. That’s when I really started to fall in love with the game.”
Through his Squirt, Pee Wee and Bantam years, Smith split time between the Littleton Hawks and Colorado Rampage.
“All of my coaches really helped me develop through the time I spent at both programs,” said Smith. “If I had to say one that really stood out and helped accelerate my development, it was Jon Eng, the strength and conditioning coach at the Rampage. He cares about all of his players that he gets and wants to maximize everyone’s potential, and that really stood out to me.”
During the 2020-21 season, Smith ventured to Nebraska to play for the Omaha Mastery 18U AAA team.
“I had a lot of fun this past season, but it was definitely an interesting season as we were pretty restricted due to the pandemic,” Smith said. “However, that meant just more time to be with teammates and create that bond. I feel like last year might’ve been one of the most fun seasons I had just due to the fact of how much time we were with each other every day.”
Now gearing up to open the 2021-22 season with the Blaze this weekend, Smith knows that team success can lead to doors opening down the road.
“The first thing I’m thinking when I think of short term is making it to nationals for this season,” Smith said. “That is something that I told Coach Pearson when I signed, that I wanted to do everything that I can to help get this team back to nationals and be a threat to everyone in the league. After that, I would really like to go play NCAA Division III college hockey somewhere.
“If that doesn’t happen to pan out, I would like to just go to college and either get a degree in Sports Management or Kinesiology. Both of those fields really interest me, and I think I want to stay in the sports world as long as I can.”
— Matt Mackinder
(October 8, 2021)