After 15 years with the Fredericton High School Black Kats men’s hockey team, Tim Smith is stepping down as head coach.
“I haven’t had one winter off in 27 seasons,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve earned the break.”
He brought six provincial titles to the Black Kats, but he is most proud of the culture around the hockey program that he helped foster in and around the school.
Smith was the assistant coach for the Black Kats for two seasons until he stepped in as head coach in the 2007-08 season. He replaced Dave Carson, who is now the athletic director of Fredericton High School.
“Dave stepped down and I stepped in as head coach, and two years later, we won our first provincial championship,” said Smith.
The Black Kats lost the 2006-07 provincial final, but Smith saw positives coming out of that loss.
“There was a core group of young players there,” he said. “We got to do something special.”
Within two years, the Black Kats were on a provincial title run, winning three consecutive championships.
“That was huge for the program,” said Smith. “Our numbers went up registration-wise for trials and just kept going off after that as we had more success.”
When asked about the changes he had to make to the program for the first provincial title, Smith said, “it’s about establishing a commitment to the work ethic to success and that losing wasn’t necessarily acceptable.”
Smith also evolved his coaching style every season to adapt to new players and bring success to his group.
Black Kats Culture
Along with the winning mentality Smith brought to the program, team culture was also fundamental to the program’s success.
Smith and the Black Kats volunteered at a church across the river during the Christmas season where they wrap, pack and sort gifts for Greener Village. Smith praised the city of Fredericton for allowing such tight team bonding in a small community.
He also makes a point of staying connected with his players during the off-season.
“I support the players no matter what they’re doing,” said Smith. “Whether they were getting their [drivers] licence or playing baseball, football or soccer.”
The team is so close that Smith doesn’t even have to arrange for them to partake in activities together.
“On their breaks, they all have lunch together or do whatever after school. They’re always together,” said Smith. “That helps build the culture [compared] to other teams where kids are at four different schools and only see each other at the rink.”
Challenges and Memories
Undoubtedly, one of the most demanding things in sports is winning a championship, but Smith said what’s even more difficult is winning consistently.
One of Smith’s goals was to instil the belief of consistency in his players and hold them to a high standard.
After winning four consecutive championships in a row from 2009-2012, Smith said the challenge was to stay on top.
“Everybody basically had already pinned us to appear in the championship before you even play” he said. “Then the challenge there is trying to hold guys accountable and stay consistent.”
Smith is also proud of helping to build a strong alumni group over the 15 years he’s been head of the program. He stressed to his players that performing for the alumni represents the program’s history and that one day, they would be part of the alumni following.
Smith is handing the head coaching position to Matthew Astle and believes the program is in fantastic hands.
“He kind of reminds me of myself when I was young,” said Smith. “Energetic, involved in a lot of hockey, passionate about coaching and wanting to help players on the ice.”
Smith aims to give Astle free reign to expand the program how he wants it.
“I’ve told him many times to do what he wants to do,” he said. “Take what you like, chuck what you don’t.”
Along with Astle, the Black Kats added Alex Verlanden as assistant coach.
Verlanden played for Black Kats from 2015-16 and knows the program and understands the work ethic and consistency it takes to win provincial titles.
“Alex is young, energetic with all kinds of passion and wanting to do better and wanting to grow within the game.”
Smith hopes to mentor both coaches as they transition into their new roles on the team, but also enjoy his time off to relax and travel.