By Ross Forman – Part of the success Caroline Smith has had during her four-year career for Loyola stems from, well, things she does when not playing hockey.
Smith, 17, who lives in Wilmette, is a lacrosse goalie – and has already signed a national letter of intent to continue that sport next fall at the Division I level for Butler University. “As a lacrosse goalie, I see the entire field and what is happening away from the ball. This has led me to focus on what I am doing when I don’t have the puck.”
Smith, a senior, also has officiated hockey, “which has helped me see the ice better as a player,” she said. “I am also able to give back to the game when officiating younger levels, like mites.”
Smith, in uniform No. 19, centers the Ramblers’ line with wings Jayna Park and Jenna Rekoske. She previously played for the Wilmette Braves and also now shines for the Chicago Mission.
Smith is, without question, one of the best Metro Girls forwards – and has been throughout her Rambler career. Last season, she was tied for the league-lead in goals (18, with Barrington’s Danika Gorbatenko), led the league in assists (24) and her 42 points in 14 league games was 11 more than the second-place finisher in points.
Loyola finished 10-2-2 (22 points) in league play amid a flood of teams battling for the regular-season title. New Trier, Barrington, and Fenwick each finished with 24 points; Naper Valley had 23 and Latin School of Chicago had 21.
The Ramblers were 5-2-3 in 10 Scholastic Cup games and their 13 points was most among the seven competing teams.
Loyola also was among the final four teams battling for the state championship with the No. 2 seed.
“I think our team last year was going to win the state championship; it was the best Loyola team that I had played on,” Smith said. “Freshman and sophomore year, I led my team in points. I wanted to do more than just that; my goal last season was to beat the Loyola Academy Hockey Club record for points in a season. Every game I would count down how many more points I would need until I surpassed the record. Breaking that record would motivate me every game to try my hardest.
“I try not to be selfish (with the puck), which has led me to setting up plays for my teammates to score. I utilized my skating to beat defensemen wide to create a scoring opportunity for myself. I also was able to create breakaways for myself by beating the defensemen up the middle in our defensive zone.”
Her junior season included a 7-point game, with 6 goals and 1 assist. “It was one of those games when everything seemed to work,” she said. “I would throw the puck to the net trying to create a scoring opportunity and it would just go in.”
Her most memorable goal last season was a breakaway tally in a 1-1 game on a penalty-kill situation. “I blocked a shot at the point, (leading to) a breakaway and went bar down.”
Smith’s drive this season is to lead Loyola back into the state title picture, as the Ramblers last won state in 2016.
“I am a very fast skater, so I use that to create opportunities for my team,” Smith said. “Even though I am small, I’m not afraid to put a body on someone to get the puck. I also try to use my strength to shove the pucks laying near the crease into the net.”
Her style of play is, no doubt, family-driven, as her family has been the biggest influence on her career, particularly her older brothers who also have played.
“I could always ask (my brothers) hockey-related questions and would get good answers. My parents have always supported me in hockey by coming to all of my games and encouraging me,” Smith said. “They never yelled at me after a bad game which led to any bad memories related to hockey. Every winter we have an outdoor rink in our backyard which has led me to be able to develop at home and not just at (team) practices.”
Smith’s hockey memories are lengthy. For instance, she still recalls going to the Wisconsin Dells for a tournament as a mite and winning that tournament. She also won back-to-back national championships for the Chicago Mission.
“I have worked a lot on my face-offs since last season. I specifically worked on tying up and winning it on my forehand,” Smith said. “My goal since coming to Loyola was to always be the best person on the team. I was pushed by a lot of my teammates to become better and better which led to me having an All-State year last season.”
Accolades and honors have been plentiful for Smith. Team accomplishments, too. For instance, she played in a state championship for the Wilmette Braves in U10. “We only had eight skaters, so I barely got a shift off,” she said.
As a first year U14, her team won state in triple overtime.
“I feel a little bit of pressure as it is my senior year and I have yet to win a state championship at Loyola,” Smith said. “I feel that I bring a strong skill set and leadership to my team. I have a strong skating ability which I utilize to skate the puck up the ice and around my opponents. By being small, I can maneuver around defenders without getting caught. I also have a strong wrist shot.
“I try and lead by example rather than by telling people what to do. If my teammates see me working hard and putting in the time, they will do it also.”
Slapshots With … Loyola Center Caroline Smith
Favorite NHL Team: Vegas Golden Knights
Favorite NHL Player: Sydney Crosby
Favorite Sports-Themed Movie: Miracle
Favorite Pre-Game Meal: Ramen and a glass of ice water
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Taylor Kinney
Best Hockey Tip: “My dad told me that if you’re not enjoying hockey, then why are you playing. This has led me to love playing hockey for the past 14 years.”
On New Loyola Girls Head Coach, D.J. LaVarre: “I am excited about having D.J. as our new coach. It is nice to see how much he cares about our team. His practices are much more engaging than our previous coach’s practices.”
Facts: “I have a job at the Wilmette Bike Shop and also play three other sports at Loyola: lacrosse, field hockey and crew.”
Teammate Who You Could See As A Hockey Coach: Nina Riley
Hardest Slapshot On Loyola: Karly Kolssak
Most Accurate Shot: Bryn Jones
Fastest Skater: Stephanie Smith
Best High School Uniforms (other than Loyola): Glenbrook
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.