Brady Smith spends most of the day reaching for things. Whether its the cookies on the top shelf or the milk in the back of the fridge. Standing at only 5’8″, Smith wouldn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a professional hockey player; but his optimistic outlook and hard work have trumped his height. When Smith steps out on to the ice, with the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the USHL, he makes it hard to remember he stands over four inches shorter than the league average of 6’0″.
How 5’8″ Brady Smith Competes in the USHL
When asked about his height, Smith laughed and said he doesn’t really think about it. “I try to play bigger than myself,” he said. “Height is something I can’t control. It’s something that’s pegged on you so I try not to think about it and work hard on the ice.”
Strengths on the Ice
Skating and Speed
Brady does a great job of ignoring it too. Throughout his whole career, even as a kid, Smith was always the fastest on the ice. Like a lot of little players, Smith’s skating is arguably the strongest part of his game “I like to use my speed to get out of tough situations and get open,” Smith explained. As he’s reached the major junior level, his skating has only gotten better; his edgework is phenomenal.
More than his skating, he valued his physicality. Smith was quick to point out his physical game was his biggest strength, even at 5’8″. Watching him play, it’s easy to see why. Moreso than some bigger defesnsemen, Smith uses his body. In the corners, Smith does an exceptional job fending players off and protecting the puck.
He doesn’t shy away from hitting either. In the first period of Wednesday night’s game against the Cedar Rapids Roughriders, Smith laid a massive hit on a player easily five inches taller than him. Bodying players is another tactic of his in the corners, too. It’s not easy for players to protect the puck from Smith; his strength is enough to shove anyone off of the puck.
Having the right skill set is useless if you don’t know how to use it. Luckily, Smith’s hockey IQ is steps above the rest of the league’s. At first glance, he’s following the same arbitrary plays that every hockey player follows. But if you take a closer look at how he plays, you’ll see Smith’s brain is always churning; especially in the offensive zone.
Smith was one of the staples of the Flying Aces’ powerplay on Wednesday. His speed and passing abilities helped the team break out of their zone easily and establish the ‘umbrella’ in the offensive zone. Once they did, Smith was their middleman working the puck around the ice. In the process of doing this, fans got a great look at his offensive awareness. Smith had a little too much of a pass-first mindset, but his passes were always seamless.
His shot isn’t half bad either when he decides to use it. Smith ended up with three shots in Wednesday’s game, all coming during the powerplay. As the top-most player, Smith had a lot of traffic to battle through when he went to take a shot. Despite that, his shots hit the net with noticeable force.
Smith isn’t the perfect player, though. His age is still noticeable when he plays. He’s only 17 and seemed to struggle under pressure; it resulted in a couple turnovers against the Roughriders. This level of composure is to be expected but needs improvement if he wants to move to the next level. It’s an easy fix, though. Composure comes with age and experience and Smith isn’t done growing by any means.
Helping Hands in the Locker Room
Smith joined the USHL as a 16-year-old. When he joined the Bloomington Thunder, he was joining a team of skilled defensemen: players like Ben Mirageas and Jason Smallidge were great role models in the locker room.
Smith credits Wyatt Kalynuk with being the biggest help. Kalynuk and Smith were always working together. Off the ice, the two would watch video together, and Kalynuk played a big part in welcoming Smith to the league, “he’s always talking. He’s an all around a really good player. I learned a lot from him.”
Kalynuk was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2017 NHL Draft. He’s currently playing with the University of Wisconsin. Smith is committed to UW and seemed excited to be rejoining Kalynuk next year.
Future on the Ice
The University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin is a great fit for Smith, and he’s anxious to improve his game even more there. “Wyatt said he loves it there. Obviously the coaching staff there is once in a lifetime. That’s something you don’t see every day, three guys like that,” his voice jumped in excitement. “I really want to learn from them over the summer. Watch some video and take what they give me. I just want to get better.”
Wisconsin has always been a big name in the hockey world, and Smith is joining a strong roster. The Badgers have four defensemen who have been drafted into the NHL, including James Greenway. They also had five forwards make the draft. So it’s easy to say that Smith is mixing himself with an impressive group of players. He’ll also be the shortest player on the roster, which might get him a little extra, if not unusual, attention.
But that’s something he’s used to, and it hasn’t stopped him yet.