William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles goalie Arthur Smith, who will compete in the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland next week.
Arthur Smith's reputation as an unflappable goalie was put to the test in November when a coach approached him after a game and delivered some news.
Smith, who plays for the South Kent Selects Academy Under-15 team in Connecticut, had been named to the U.S. hockey team for the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games which begin in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday and end Jan. 22.
"A coach told me but asked me to keep it confidential until USA Hockey could put out a press release about the team," Smith said. "When I found out that I made it, I was really excited but then I kind of had to keep it a secret from my teammates. I had to go back to the locker room after he told me and I kind of had to hide my expressions."
Some of the best young American hockey talent has played in the Youth Winter Olympics which, like the Summer and Winter Games, are held every four years. Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel played in 2012 Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
Four members of the U.S. team that competed at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship -- forwards Jacob Pivonka and Oliver Wahlstrom, as well as defensemen Ty Emberson and Mattias Samuelsson -- were on the U.S. team that finished first at the 2016 Youth Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
"I'm looking forward to playing against some of the best players in my age group in the world and experiencing international hockey," said Smith, who had a 24-4-0 record and a .935 save percentage for South Kent Selects at the close of 2019. "It's an honor that not many people get to experience."
The United States begins play against Finland on Jan. 18 and faces Switzerland the following day. Canada, Russia and Denmark are also in the tournament, which features games with three 15-minute periods.
Smith and his teammates are among 96 U.S. athletes between the ages of 15 and 18 at the Youth Winter Olympics, which has 81 medal events in 16 sport disciplines that include hockey, bobsled, speedskating and skiing.
About 1,880 athletes from 70 countries will compete in Lausanne, and Smith will be one of the few black athletes there. The Winter Olympics attracts a small but growing number of minority athletes from North America, Europe and a handful of so-called non-traditional winter sport nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
The United States has experienced gains in black participation at recent Winter Olympics largely through its bobsled and speedskating teams.
Minnesota Wild left wing Jordan Greenway made history at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics when he became the first black player on a U.S. Olympic hockey team.
Smith and his parents hope that his presence at the Youth Winter Games in Lausanne will be just as inspiring as Greenway's was at PyeongChang.
"I think it's super-special," Smith said. "Hopefully, I can play my best and maybe set an example for other people in the future."
Christine Pina, Smith's mother, said, "We feel that this is a moment for us to be talking about the fact that African Americans play all kinds of sports, including ice hockey."
"Here's one place where we see, hopefully, what will continue to be a greater number of African American boys and girls having the opportunity and choosing to play hockey at every level," she said.
Smith fell in love with hockey after his parents took him to a Quinnipiac University game when he was 3 years old. By the third period, he was hooked "and made it known by having a bit of a tantrum and not wanting to leave the rink at the end of the game," Pina said.
These days, Smith, now 6-foot-3, 183 pounds, displays a calm demeanor in goal that belies a fierce competitive spirit, said Ryan Ward, his coach and director of player personnel at South Kent Selects Academy.
Ward, said Smith reminds him a bit of St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who he got to know when Binnington played for San Antonio of the American Hockey League and Ward was a coach there.
"He's got the fire of Binner and he's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder," Ward said. "He's got the technical aspects of someone like Carey Price. I think Arthur is a well-rounded kid that keeps his cool under pressure and works tirelessly on the technical side of his game."
While Ward sees Binnington and Price in Smith, the young goalie said his game is more aligned with Mike Smith of the Edmonton Oilers.
"He's a big goalie like me," Arthur Smith said. "He's a solid skater who likes to handle that puck and I like to do that also."
Opposing teams in Lausanne will have a chance next week to decide whose style Smith emulates.