We had our exit meetings and (Generals coach) DJ Smith just looked right at me and said, this is our goal and that’s what we’ve got to do. - Hunter Smith
Hunter Smith has been eyeing the Memorial Cup for quite some time.
Since being ousted in an Eastern Conference Final sweep at the hands of the North Bay Battalion in 2014, the Oshawa Generals forward and Calgary Flames prospect made it a goal to not only take home an Ontario Hockey League title, but the Memorial Cup, too.
“We had our exit meetings and (Generals coach) DJ Smith just looked right at me and said, this is our goal and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Smith recounted. “We came back at the start of the year and it was a goal to win the OHL then the Memorial Cup, it’s an extra goal to achieve.”
With one goal reached, the second begins Saturday when Oshawa plays the Rimouski Oceanic (6:30 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West, Sportsnet 590 The FAN), who captured the President Cup as Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions.
The Generals lost just five games en route to securing their bid to the Memorial Cup and winning the 13th J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions in franchise history. Oshawa beat both the Peterborough Petes and Niagara IceDogs in five games before avenging their loss against the Battalion, beating North Bay in six games in the East final.
Another win in five games, against Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters, propelled the Generals to the league title and earned a berth into the Memorial Cup for the first time since 1997.
Smith finished the playoffs with nine goals and 18 points in 21 games.
“I learned a lot,” said Smith, who had a goal and an assist in Game 5’s series clinching win. “Going through the playoff grind, you get beat down and you’re playing every other night and other teams are keying in on you. It brings you along mentally and you see where you can go, where you can bring yourself mentally. That’s a huge thing, being mentally strong. You just have to push through.”
Congratulations followed for Smith after Oshawa’s win from Flames general manager Brad Treliving and development coach Troy Crowder.
Smith returned the sentiment on Calgary’s run, which saw the Flames qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009 and advance to the second round for just the second time since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.
“You always want to win the Cup but it’s a very young team,” Smith said. “For them to get past Vancouver in the first round and the experience that it brings and guys are getting is a huge boost for that team.
“You see all these young guys and you go to camp with them and you want to put yourself in that group of guys in the near future. It’s obviously something to look forward to, whenever you see a group of hardworking guys like that. You imagine what they’re all going to be able to do when we’re 25, 26, 27. It’s exciting.”
But before Smith forecasts the future, he’s living in the present.
And that present consists of besting the Oceanic, host Quebec Remparts and the Kelowna Rockets, who captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup as Western Hockey League Champions.
“It’s what we’ve been working towards since the start of the year,” Smith said. “It’s the biggest honor in junior hockey. Getting the chance is a huge honour for me and my teammates.”