BRITISH COLUMBIA

Blazers' Smith vows to use Canada junior snub as motivation as he chases WHL title

12/11/2012 08:03 EST | Updated 02/10/2013 05:12 EST
VANCOUVER - Colin Smith was right where he wanted to be Tuesday, but with a different team.

The Kamloops Blazers centre had hoped to be in Calgary trying out for the Canadian squad that will compete at the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia, starting on Boxing Day. Instead, he was in the Southern Alberta city with his WHL club for a game against the Calgary Hitmen.

Smith did not receive an invitation to Team Canada's evaluation camp even though he led the WHL in scoring before Tuesday's games — and the Canadian squad expanded its camp roster in case players leave suddenly for the NHL upon resolution of the lockout. But Smith, a 19-year-old Edmonton native, is determined to make the most of his disappointment.

"Obviously, it's pretty emotional when you have a goal that you've set for quite some time," he said. "I put a lot into, and did everything I could to try and earn an invite. But some things don't go your way, and now I'm trying to respond differently and try to use (the rejection) in a way that I can push myself to another level and make something special out of this year in Kamloops."

Smith has helped the Blazers battle for top spot overall in the 30-team WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. He has already surpassed the 51 points he produced in 2010-11 and is close to matching the career-high 61 he generated in 2009-10.

In both cases, he played full 72-game seasons.

"It's nice to see the hard work paying off," said Smith, who was a seventh-round draft choice (192nd overall) of the Colorado Avalanche this year. "But at the same time, I've gotta even learn that I can't look at it too much, because I've just gotta focus on the way I play and trust that (the scoring title) will come. When the team does well, that's when the individual statistics come pretty well, too."

Kamloops coach Guy Charron describes Smith, who is in his fourth season with the Blazers, as a gifted player with a strong ethic.

"That (Team Canada rejection) was sad for me, and sad for (Smith)," said Charron.

But Charron said he is happy that Smith can remain with Kamloops as it pursues a WHL title and berth in next spring's Memorial Cup title in Saskatoon.

While Smith did not earn an invitation, linemate J.C. Lipon did. Lipon, a 19-year-old Regina native has also ranked among WHL scoring leaders with 22 goals and 35 assists in 34 games.

Lipon, who was not drafted by a WHL club and has also been bypassed in the NHL draft, is in his fourth season with the Blazers. He is close to surpassing the career-high 65 points he mustered last season.

Lipon joined the Blazers as a 16-year-old, shortly before Charron assumed the club's coaching reins in November 2009. The coach said the winger "has come a long ways" in his development and always displayed signs of scoring ability.

But "to be honest with you," the extent of his offensive success has been "a pleasant surprise."

"I think the change in his game came when he played more to the identity of his game, which is more physical. Last year, he was getting involved in a few scrums, and he kind of established himself in that area," said Charron.

"His skills now are coming together, and playing with a guy like Colin Smith makes it pretty easy ... to have the ability to produce anyway."

Lipon is expected to play a third or fourth-line role if he cracks Team Canada's roster. Unlike Smith, he did not set a goal of making Team Canada until he developed a hot scoring hand early in the season.

"It sucks that Smitty couldn't share the praise (and receive an invitation) with me," said Lipon. "But he's happy for me, and I'm going to try to make him proud."