NORFOLK, Va. – The Norfolk Admirals, the ECHL affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes, have a plethora of prospects who are either on NHL or AHL contracts. One of those players is Jalen Smereck, an offensive-minded puck-moving defenseman from Detroit. I chatted with Jalen about life in Detroit, playing major junior hockey in Flint, Michigan and more.
The Sin Bin: Can you describe the hockey atmosphere in Detroit?
Jalen Smereck: I went to public school in Detroit, not knowing too much about hockey. However, my Dad was a coach for my two older brothers, so when I was born, I kind of grew up around the rink. I was there every day. My family are huge Red Wings fans. It was all about the Red Wings and the bad boys, that’s pretty much what we watched back then, and I grew up into it from there.
TSB: You played minor hockey for the prestigious Little Caesars, do you have a memory that sticks out in your mind?
J.S.: One year we went to Edmonton, and another year we went to Quebec, which is one of the biggest hockey tournaments ever. Those were the two best years of my life, especially as a kid. There’s nothing better.
TSB: You played a year in the USHL and made the transition over to the major junior circuit in the OHL, what steered you away from the United States Hockey League (USHL) to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)?
J.S: I played a full year in the USHL and I looked at the school route. At the time school wasn’t my option. I thought major junior was a better fit for my game. I was in a tough spot and it was a tough choice, but I thought it would be best for me, so I made the jump.
TSB: Your last year of major junior you played with the Flint Firebirds of the OHL. How did you handle the pressure of playing that close to home?
J.S.: I thought it was amazing. I got to move 45 minutes away from home. I thought about it for a couple minutes and I said this is a great move for me. I wanted to be close to my family and I thought it was great to be able to play at home in front of my family. I thought that was pretty cool. Flint is an amazing place. I like its upside and what it’s going to be in the future.
TSB: Everyone knows what’s going on in Flint with the water. What was your experience like there and how did the team help out in the community?
J.S.: I thought it was amazing, getting out to the schools and talking to the kids. Bringing that different type of environment. They had the semi-pro team there a while ago and they had the NAHL team there. It’s a great thing for the fans and the people there. At the start, we didn’t have much. I know the first year they didn’t, just with the water thing going on, getting out in the community and helping everyone, showing our faces out there and being a part of that was huge, I think.
TSB: Have you set any goals for yourself this year?
J.S.: Yes, nothing too crazy. It’s not the best being sent down, but Norfolk’s a great place. I just want to be able to get better every day, work my hardest every day and improve my game all around and especially turn it up on the defensive side of the puck and keep working until I work my way back up.
TSB: Head Coach Robbie Ftorek and Assistant Coach Peter Sidorkiewicz have strong hockey backgrounds. What have you learned from them since getting into Norfolk?
J.S.: I can be here all day telling you. It’s amazing what you learn from two guys like that. Sid was a phenomenal goalie in the NHL. Then you have Robbie who was great in the NHL as well. Just two guys with so much knowledge. Sid knows the goalie perspective. He sees the game well, goalies know the game a lot. Robbie eats, sleeps, breathes hockey. He’s probably the first guy on the ice 99 percent of the time. He knows what it takes to get to the next level. They’ve been helping me, and they want to see everyone here move on to the next level.
Norfolk Admirals Video Coordinator DJ Williamson praised Smereck’s offensive capabilities.
“Smereck is a puck moving defenseman with a lot of offensive upside. He’s a swift skater who likes to lead the breakout and lead the rush up the ice. He also has excellent reach and uses his stick very well in one-on-one situations.”
Williamson also is impressed with his quick shot release and his on-ice vision.
“Jalen also possesses a quick and accurate wrist shot and he’s not shy about shooting the puck. He also sees the ice well and does a good job on the powerplay generating scoring chances for himself and his linemates.”
In 13 games played, the rookie defenseman has six assists and is a +4. The Admirals return to action on Thursday night, when they travel to Greenville and play the Swamp Rabbits.