There could be no more fitting tribute to Charles “Lefty” Smith than something that occurred probably within hours of his death.
Between periods of Tuesday night’s Notre Dame game with the Russia Red Stars the entertainment was an IYHL (Irish Youth Hockey League) mini-mite game. Even if you have never been to a game at Notre Dame, the description probably paints a good picture. These little “squirts” roam around the ice, often fall down, sometimes put the puck in the wrong net and don’t give a darn what their coaches are telling them to do. Would you when you are having that much fun? I know because as the PA announcer for ND hockey, no one is closer to the mini-mite action and all I can see through those facemasks is a bunch of smiling little kids.
We have a mini-mite scrimmage between periods probably eight or nine times a season and what I have often found most remarkable is how remarkable it has become. Hardly a soul leaves for the concession stands or bathrooms until the mini-mites are done and when one of those kids scores a goal the cheer is as loud as it would be for an Anders Lee game winner in the big boys’ game.
It was Lefty Smith, along with his assistant and right hand man Tim McNeill who started the IYHL, their way of trying to show Michiana that hockey was a real sport and maybe your kids just might want to give it a try. Back then hockey around here was pretty much relegated to a handful of die-hards from “up north” that wandered down to Howard Park for a few matches. A lot of people thought it would never take off and that Lefty still thought he was in Minnesota. Well it worked big time. From the mini-mite teams to a solid high school program locally, hockey is now a part of our landscape.
I go back a long way with Lefty and my story of his kindness to me and my family is just one of many similar stories being recounted around Michiana today.
I started working in the press box the first game (Ohio University as I recall) keeping statistics and did so for seven or eight years. Then the public address job opened and I went to Lefty and asked if he would give me a chance at it. I had never done PA for any sport at any level but somehow Lefty trusted me and said okay. To this day I recall his words of inspiration, “try not to screw things up too much.” That was pure Lefty!
Somehow I made it through that first game and once you did well by Lefty he made you a part of the hockey family and his family. He took a few others and me on some road trips and somehow we all seemed to survive. Lefty and his wife Mickey had an open door policy after those road games. In other words the door to their hotel room was open and if you had the stamina just stop by. And, oh boy, can those hockey lifers throw a party.
The only thing that meant more to Lefty than hockey was his family and his friend’s families. He touched my family in a most personal way and was like a grandfather to my two sons.
If it were not for Lefty, I have no idea how my younger son Matthew would have made it through Notre Dame. He worked for Lefty at the Loftus Center, which provided a little invaluable income and Lefty always made sure Matthew was doing okay in life and that he was doing his homework. Above all else that is how I will remember Lefty Smith, as a caring person who never forgot his friends and never forgot the important things in life. Did you know that every one of his scholarship players earned a college degree?
God only knows how many obituaries I have written over the years but I knew this would be one of the toughest to write, especially with tears in my eyes.
So goodbye Old Lefthander, I will think of you every time the puck is dropped.