Not taken in the 2016 National Hockey League Draft? Not a problem for Jalen Smereck.
When his name wasn’t called at June’s draft in Buffalo, the 19-year-old Flint Firebirds defenseman did what he always does – he went back to work and he impressed.
Smereck turned an Arizona Coyotes’ rookie camp appearance over the summer into an invite to the NHL team’s training camp last month into a three-year entry level contract with the team that he signed last week.
“This is a surreal moment for my family and I,” Smereck said of the signing. “This is an opportunity that I don’t take lightly and am very thankful to the entire Arizona Coyotes organization. There is still a lot of work to be done but I guarantee that I will work my hardest to get better everyday.”
The Detroit native appeared in one preseason game for Arizona last month, registering two hits and two penalty minutes while logging 13:44 minutes of ice time.
The Coyotes shipped the 6-foot, 195-pound defender back to Flint, where he’s an alternate captain on the Firebirds.
“This is an awesome day for Jalen and his family,” said Firebirds General Manager George Burnett of Smereck’s NHL signing. “This is another great example of determination and perseverance by a young man who was a late draft selection into our league and was not picked in the NHL Entry Draft.”The Generals chose Smereck with the 299th overall pick in the 2013 OHL draft. Before joining Oshawa, he skated for the Bloomington Thunder of the United States Hockey League after the Tier I junior team selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 Phase II Draft. He also played two games for the Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League.
Smereck hails from a hockey family that had him on skates by the time he was two years old.
“My dad coached my two older brothers and I was just one of the younger kids around the rink watching,” Smereck told The Detroit Free Press recently. I always took my brother’s stick and played in the hallway. My dad thought I was ready and took me on the ice.”
Despite Detroit’s black hockey history – the Detroit Hockey Association has produced players who’ve gone on to stellar collegiate and minor league careers– it wasn’t always easy being a black kid playing in the Motor City, Smereck said.
“Everyone else is playing basketball or football and you’re playing hockey,” he told The Detroit Free Press recently. “I kind of got teased a bit for playing that sport. I still played basketball and baseball, but they looked down on me for playing hockey.”
These days, Smereck works to make sure that young kids of color in Flint and back home in Detroit learn that hockey is indeed for everyone.
“I definitely look to get out in the community here in Flint and open up the eyes of some of the young kids in the inner city,” he told the Free Press. “Even back home in Detroit, I’ve done a few talks with kids and just tried to show them. It’s amazing when you show them what a hockey puck is and they just can’t take their eyes off it.”