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PODCAST: Smith on His Rookie Year, Hughes as a Roommate and More

Devils rookie defenseman Ty Smith dishes on his rookie NHL season and life with Jack Hughes as a roommate

by Sam Kasan @SamiKasan /

They aren't exactly the Odd Couple, but perhaps it is odd that Devils defenseman Ty Smith and center Jack Hughes are roommates. 

It wasn't that long ago, two years in fact, that the two were mortal enemies. 

After all, both men went head-to-head in international tournaments like the Under-18 World Junior Champions and World Juniors Summer Showcase for their respective countries: Smith for Team Canada and Hughes with Team USA. 

And the animosity was mutual.  

"I played all my shifts against Jack," Smith recalled. "We would go back-and-forth chirping each other. We didn't really like each other. Same thing at World Junior Sumer Showcase, we got into a bit of a tussle during one of the games. There was always some tension because we would always have to play against each other."

The initial détente occurred at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. Smith, who was in the area, attended the draft when Hughes was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils, the same team that had chosen Smith the year prior. 

"I met him at the draft and he seemed like a pretty good guy," Smith said. "We had some good conversations there and some fun. We kept in touch. We did the rookie orientation and NHLPA stuff together last year when he was coming into the league. We got pretty close throughout that whole experience and the camp, and we kept in touch."

Heading into the 2020-21 campaign, Hughes suggested the tandem live together. 

"He sent me a text part-way through quarantine and he asked if I wanted to live with him next year," Smith said. "First thing I said is, 'We'll see. I've got a team to make. I'm not on the team already like you are.'"

Smith, who turned 21 years old on March 24, did make the team and has enjoyed a remarkable rookie season, posted 19 assists and 21 points in 44 games while being elevated to the club's top defensive pairing. 

Despite make the team out of training camp, it wasn't until Smith had played a few games in the NHL that felt like he "made the team." 

"For me it was just day by day and me sticking around," he said. "I didn't really feel like I was fully on the team and fully in the NHL. It took quite a few games."

But if there was one moment that stands out as his "I'm officially in the NHL" moment, it was March 30 at Boston. He was engaged in a second-period scuffle with Boston's Patrice Bergeron in front of his net. That's when he realized he was being grabbed from behind and hauled to the ice with his helmet torn off. He discovered the culprit was Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who would toss Smith's helmet across the ice on his way to the penalty box. 

"Marchand and I got into it in front of the net," Smith said. "He was yelling at me, threw my helmet across the ice, picked it up and threw it again on the way to the box because I pushed Bergeron before that. 

"That was a moment that's kind of cool. A guy I saw doing that all the time with other players as I grew up, and now he's getting into it with me. It's a pretty cool moment in a good way."

Smith, who is undersized for a typical NHL defenseman at 5-foot-11, has far exceeded expectations within the Devils organization with his phenomenal year, from head coach Lindy Ruff to general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who has now taken to naming Smith along with Hughes and captain Nico Hischier as the club's foundational figures. 

That doesn't mean he hasn't had his growing pains or learning curve. He found out early how different the NHL is compared to the Western Hockey League, where he played four-plus seasons of junior hockey with Spokane. 

Smith made a deke move at the offensive blue line against the Washington Capitals that created a scoring chance for his Devils. But when he tried the same move again later in the game, this time against T.J. Oshie, it didn't go as well. 

"He's a smart player and saw me do it a period ago and was waiting for me to do it again," Smith said. "You could probably get away with that in the Western League, making that move again. Or doing the same thing a few times and guys not catching on. Here they watch for tendencies. If you do things to create chances, they're going to learn from that and know how to stop it."

Smith, who said he's studied other undersized NHL defenseman like 5-foot-9 Jared Spurgeon and former Devil Andy Greene, has learned to overcome his diminished stature in a league that values tall defensemen. 

"Angles and reading speed go hand-in-hand. I've been working on that," he said. "I need to have that good positioning. Growing up and going through junior I was never the biggest or strongest guy. I tried to watch smaller guys in the NHL that defend well and how they do it. I continue to work on positioning myself properly in the defensive zone so I can use my size and leverage and getting below them to get to pucks first or to keep them from getting to the puck."

Smith, who wants to improve his explosiveness and shot during the off-season, spends a lot of his free time at the rink. Though he does also try to get away from the game at times. 

And lately that's been sharing in his roommate's love of watching basketball, binging Matthew McConaughey rom-coms or cooking meals. And though they aren't the odd couple, the cooking duties tend to fall on Smith's shoulders. 

"If one of us is the cook it would be me most of the time," Smith said. "The cleaning is both of us. It's pretty tidy between both of us. I'm probably the cleaner one, but (Hughes is) not bad. He's not too messy."

Overall, the adaption from enemies to frenemies to friends has been completed. 

Smith agreed: "It's been a really good fit and a good relationship so far."

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