The Terrace River Kings are set for the new season. Puck drop at the team’s home opener is scheduled for Oct. 23 against Kitimat.
Players, coaches and fans will be mostly focused on what happens on the ice, but there is one man who is responsible for almost everything that takes place off of it.
Ross Smith, 56, is the team’s general manager. It’s a position he’s held for the past seven years.
“I just like hanging out with the guys and it’s good for the community. If I didn’t do it, I don’t know who would,” Smith said in an interview with the Terrace Standard.
As part of his job with the team, Smith is in charge of travel arrangements, booking hotels, getting transportation, meals, scheduling ice time, fundraising and recruiting volunteers.
Being a former hockey player himself — Smith played minor hockey in Terrace and junior hockey in Invermere for the Columbia Valley Rockies in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League — he liked watching the River Kings and started inquiring into how the team was run. When his predecessor moved to Eastern Canada, Smith took the reigns.
“We’ve done really well, not just since I started, but we’ve been lucky to have a lot of good players,” he said.
“We went to the finals three times, I believe, so that’s kind of the highlights, and just winning the playoffs in the league and stuff. I’m all about winning,” Smith said, laughing.
But nobody was winning last season, when the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for the Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL) to operate. Smith described that time as “not very fun,” but he was able to get outside and stay busy with some of his hobbies, like cross country skiing at Onion Lake and fishing.
“There’s so much to do here. You can fish and camp and hunt, there’s lakes and skiing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing … There’s so much to do here.”
Navigating the challenges now posed by COVID-19 won’t be easy for league and team organizers. Even though the season is going ahead, the Smithers Steelheads have already dropped out due to the pandemic, and public health restrictions will make it more difficult for teams to sustain themselves financially.
“It’s going to be a challenge with all the rules, the attendance, we can only have 383 fans in the stands and that’s not many,” Smith said.
“It costs a lot to run the team, even though we don’t play a lot of games … The team pays for everything, so it costs money. And without the fans in the stands, you don’t get the door admission, so you’ve got to rely a lot on your sponsorships from around the community.”
Smith said that he was first made aware that the season was going to happen in August, and he and his team of volunteers went to work getting things in order so the team could play.
“It takes a lot of effort to get things rolling, but we’re good to go,” he said, adding that he couldn’t have done it alone. “We have a little group of people there and they helped me out a lot.”
When Smith isn’t carrying out is general manager duties or enjoying his hobbies, odds are he’s on the job. He started his own construction company in 1993 called Rossco Ventures Ltd., building subdivisions and working on road and bridge projects. Recently, he has been doing work at the new Mills Memorial Hospital project site.
Smith was born and raised in Terrace, leaving only for a brief stint when he played junior hockey in Invermere. As a kid he spent his winters in the rink and his summers at Lakelse Lake.
“It was good, I met some friends and went to a different high school,” he said of his time in Invermere.
“The only thing I regretted was not graduating here. Because you go to school with all your friends here, and then you leave didn’t get to graduate with them.”
Many of his friends are still in Terrace, and later in life he raised two daughters here, coaching them when they played ringette. Smith describes the city as a great place to raise kids.
But for now, Smith is focused on the upcoming River Kings season, which is only around a week away.
“It’s going to be good, we’ve lost probably five of our better players but we have hopefully some new guys coming up and it should be a good season again,” he said.
“It’s exciting to be able to play again and get out there.”