Andrew Smith - April-2021 (Kitchener Minor Hockey)

PrintAndrew Smith - April-2021

Andrew has many fond memories of his childhood, playing Right Wing as a Jr Ranger and later on at age 14, becoming a referee while continuing playing hockey and golf.  He reflects - "When I started officiating, I was lucky to have support and guidance from our family friend, Fernando Nogueira, who was a Referee Supervisor for the Alliance and fellow KMHA referee.  My mom was a great support who would encourage me to continue reffing year after year."

Andrew grew up in Kitchener with his parents, Monique and Rick and younger sister, Melanie (a Kitchener Lady Ranger herself).  Currently, Andrew and his fiancee, Kelsie, reside in Breslau, planning their wedding to occur after the NHL season is over.

Hockey was part of his life from a young age until his mid twenties, playing for his high school, Ressurection CSS, Jr Hockey for Elmira Sugar Kings, Plattsburgh Cardinals NCAA Division 3 finishing as a University of Waterloo Warrior.  In his first year as an OHL linesman, Andrew was asked to join the 2017 Memorial Cup crew.  This was completely unheard of yet Andrew proved he was ready for this role.  
Through email and text, we were able to interview Andrew about all the different chapters of his hockey and referee careers.  Andrew was candid and humble, appreciating and making the most of the opportunities he has encountered.


KMHA: Remembering your minor hockey years, what is one fond memory you have and why?

Andrew:  My most fond memories as a player in the KMHA system would be making the AAA team for the first time under Coach Paul Nezny and my teammates, some of whom have become lifelong friends. When I think back, a lot of my memories relate to officiating, working at the old Patrick J. Doherty on Wilson Ave, at 7am, the rink was absolutely freezing. Skating around, working with the young kids, helping to teach them the game. As time went on I had the chance to line the Minor Midget AAA Playdown Game 8 due to the point system of the playoffs at Activa PJD - Waterloo Wolves vs. Kitchener Jr. Rangers. It was sold out, all the seats were filled. People were standing around every pane of glass. It was a really cool experience and a game I will always remember.

KMHA: Your road to Jr wasn’t a typical one – you didn’t go to Jr training camps right?  How did you end up signing with the Elmira Sugar Kings? How would you describe your time with their organization? What is your fondest memory?

Getting to Jr. hockey was very unusual. In Grade 12 I began to realize a golf scholarship at the time wasn’t going to work out. It just so happened that I was having a really good Highschool hockey season with R.C.S.S. My dad gave me the idea of emailing some Jr. B organizations to see if I could get a tryout for next season. I decided to email the Elmira Sugar Kings and the Guelph Dominators because I noticed they weren’t among the elite at the time of the Midwestern Conference. The Guelph Dominators never got back to me but Geoff Haddaway, the head coach of Elmira Sugar Kings called me on Sunday afternoon and asked if I would like to come to practice on Monday afternoon. I was extremely excited and without hesitation I accepted the invite. I showed up to practice with my parents and quickly realized how good these players were. Geoff Haddaway called me into his office after practice and said “well, Andrew, you can’t pass or shoot but we only have 11 forwards at this time and you were able to keep up with the speed of the practice so we would like to sign you for the rest of the season to be our 12th forward. “You’ll have to make the team again next year, but we want you to finish the season with us” I was very happy and jumped at the opportunity. I finished my season with R.C.S.S. and I got the opportunity to play the last 4 regular season games and the first round of playoff with the Elmira Sugar Kings before we were eliminated by the Kitchener Dutchman. After practicing and playing with the team, I was hooked and was going to do whatever I had to do to make the team the following year. 

My time with the organization was honestly the best years of my playing career! Coach Haddaway changed my life! He gave me the opportunity to become somebody, he believed in me like no coach ever has and he developed me not only as a player but more importantly as a person and I am forever grateful for that. The staff and community were amazing, they took care of you like you were family. I remember driving home after practice late in the season in my last year thinking and wishing I could just play hockey there for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to move on! 

I have many memories in Elmira, from scoring my first goal, my first fight, but the best memory was when we won the Cherrey and Sutherland cup in 2011. I wasn’t able to play the Cherrey Cup Finals because I got hurt in game 1 of the series but running onto the ice to celebrate with my teammates in Listowel was a thrill and moment that I will never forget. I was healthy enough to play in the Sutherland Cup and as underdogs against a Niagara team we were able to win in Niagara in 5 games! I was lucky enough to be on the ice when the final buzzer went experiencing that moment with my teammates, the staff that believed in me, and the community in Elmira are memories I’ll cherish forever! The bus ride back to Elmira after that win, partying in the dressing room, riding on the fire truck with fans on the streets of downtown Elmira, are memories I'll cherish for the rest of my life!

KMHA: Your university years started in New York with Plattsburgh Cardinals NCAA Division 3 than you returned to home to Waterloo.  What made you return?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the grades to go anywhere. Plattsburgh gave me a chance to play hockey as long as I took two courses at Conestoga College and received higher then an 80% average in both courses. From there I went to Plattsburgh on a partial scholarship and was very excited to continue my hockey journey. Even though I received a partial scholarship it was still very expensive to be an out of state student. After realizing the financial stress it was putting on my family and I, I had to decide what I was going to do going forward. I emailed Laurier and Waterloo Hockey programs and Coach Brian Bourque was willing to give me an opportunity pending my grades were good enough at Plattsburgh to join the University of Waterloo and the Warrior hockey program. Best decision I ever made! I went on to play 2 years for the University of Waterloo hockey team after sitting out a year because transfer athlete regulations and graduated with a Recreation and Leisure Sports Business Degree.

KMHA: Having started reffing as a teenage, was it your dream to be a pro referee/linesman?  Can you share your journey to get you to where you are today.- ie Combine / OHL Career.  Who guided you, if anyone, along the way.

No, my dream was to play on the PGA Tour. Once I realized that wasn’t going to happen I turned my focus to playing hockey and my goal was to play pro hockey. I didn’t think the NHL was realistic as I was already in my 20’s but I was getting better year after year so I wanted to see try and play pro in the ECHL and see where it would take me. I was 24 and having a really good year with the University of Waterloo and hoped to go pro after the season. Just before Christmas we were playing York University where I slid into the boards awkwardly and injured my right ankle with a high ankle sprain. It was the toughest injury of my career and it came to a point where I knew my hockey career was over. A couple SPHL teams showed interest but I decided to stay home and finish the semester. 

A month or so after my season ended I was asked to line the Alliance Midget Select Championships in Woodstock. It was a tournament style event and our KMHA crew was asked to work the championship game. From there, I was invited to the NHL Officiating Combine in Buffalo. I decided to focus all of my attention to the NHL Combine. I changed my diet, worked out 5 to 6 times a week, and did 1 on 1 power skating with SSM’s Robert Mackowski. Robert know as Bob actually reached out to Al Kimmel and asked him to come watch me skate and I believe that really helped put me on the NHL radar so I can’t thank Bob enough for his professionalism, time, and expertise when it came to skating. After the Combine I was given the opportunity to work in the AHL and an invite to the OHL Officials Training Camp. Going into the next hockey season I was lining in the AHL, OHL and with KMHA still.

Within KMHA a few mentors stand out, Fernando Nogueira and Glenn MacDonald.  I remember going over to the Nogueira household when I was 14 the night before my first officiating games and Ferno gave me officiating gear to help get me started. Both Glenn and Ferno, helped develop on the ice and gave me lots of opportunity to grow within KMHA so I am very thankful for that. Once I got to the OHL and AHL Kevin Hastings became my mentor and a guy I could lean on through the ups and downs of the year. I was fortunate to work a lot of games with him learning something each and every night. He’s ones of the best in the OHL and AHL and he was instrumental in me getting to the NHL. I have a lifelong friend in Hasty and I’m very lucky to have him in my life!

KMHA: Do you remember the first OHL game you lined?  When was it / Who was playing / How did you feel before, during and after the game?

To be honest I remember my first pre season try out game more then my first regular season game. Opposite to my memories of my first games in the NHL. My first pre season game I got assigned was in Niagara against the Kitchener Rangers. 

It was September 2016, I remember driving up by myself a little overwhelmed but also very excited about the opportunity. Because it was the pre season and I still wasn’t on the OHL staff yet, I didn’t have an OHL jersey, so, I wore my minor hockey sweater. Pretty funny looking back on it! 

After the game I remember being very satisfied with my effort but I knew I had a lot to learn. I was given a small tip about my thumb being off the puck when I dropped it during my face offs. Centres could then use the movement of my thumb as a trigger and can time my face offs. I was fascinated by the art of officiating. My family came to the game as well as my good friend Adam Payerl. We went out for dinner with my parents and after Adam and I stayed to celebrate a little more. It was a great day and night!

In your first year reffing in the OHL, you were chosen as one of the linesmen for the Memorial Cup.  How exciting and unheard for a first year linesmen at the national junior championship level.  How did your selection come about and are you able to share one memory that stands out for you?

Andrew: Ya, working the OHL Championship and Memorial Cup was surreal. My goal to start the season was to make the OHL playoffs. Once I made the playoffs my goal was to do the best job I could each and every game I was assigned. As rounds went on I knew I was working really well and Conrad Hache gave me the opportunity to work the OHL Finals and the Memorial Cup. The experience I was able to get from working those big games allowed me to develop and enhance my skills so I am very thankful for that.

This might sound bad but what I remember most was not only the atmosphere and the pressure that comes with those big games but the time spent with my teammates. Whether it was driving back from Erie with all 6 officials after the OHL Championship or spending the 10 days at the Memorial Cup. It was an honour to work both of these championships and something I am very proud of!

Next month, the May Edition, we will continue our interview with Andrew and his new chapter in the NHL.  His thoughts, highs, lows and everything in between.