Smyth becoming unsung hero on Thunderbirds' defence

Feb 21, 2023

Austin Owens I Halifax Thunderbirds

Throughout his lacrosse career, Trevor Smyth has played for teams with lofty goals and expectations for their players. That’s helped him grow into the player he is today. 

“Coming from such a competitive system, it instils certain qualities and a drive in you. Getting that from such a young age and then continuing that all the way up (to now), It’s been incredibly important for my development,” said Smyth of his personal growth 

Now in his second year in the National Lacrosse League as a member of the Halifax Thunderbirds, the 27-year-old is coming into his own and excelling for a team that has championship aspirations in 2022.

The Orangeville, Ontario native grew up playing minor lacrosse for his hometown Northmen before graduating into the junior system. He played his first game of Junior B in 2011 and played his first full year at that level in 2012. 

While playing box, Smyth had been considering his future in regards to leaving home to pursue an NCAA scholarship in the United States. He had decided to weigh his options down south, but on the same weekend he made that choice, he suffered a torn ACL. 

After going through the tough recovery process, he took a post-grad year at The Kiski School in Pennsylvania in 2014 before committing to play his college ball at the Rochester Institute of Technology – which has been a pro lacrosse player factory over the years. 

“As soon as I got there, expectations were set,” Smyth said. “We were looking for nothing less than a national championship there every single year, and it started with our league championship. Something that’s also really stressed down there is the family mentality. Everyone has relationships with each other down there. (RIT) just produces players, the alumni give back, and everyone just works to keep the factory going.”

Smyth spent the 2015 and 2016 summers splitting time between Orangeville Junior A and Junior B, but when Smyth wasn’t upping his stock playing box, he was proving himself down at RIT with a long pole.

He appeared in 34 games during his first two years with the Tigers, putting up five goals, 10 points, 34 ground balls, and 23 caused turnovers over that span. 

With Orangeville in 2016, Smyth was able to play for the Minto Cup, but the team came up just short against the Coquitlam Adanacs. Heading back to school, he was ready to make an impact in his junior year.

But he’d suffer another torn ACL ahead of the 2017 campaign, giving him another hurdle to overcome on his road to the pros.

“It’s pretty demoralizing, and I felt like both times the injury happened, they came at pivotal points in where I was lacrosse-wise,” Smyth said. “I felt like I was playing some of my best lacrosse during 2016 and heading into 2017, and then I had it happen all over again for a second time. That was also the year we went to the National Championship, too, and that was difficult. You want to be there for your team and cheer them on but to be sitting on the sidelines, and not being able to help, it’s definitely tough.”

After another lengthy recovery cycle, Smyth returned to lacrosse, playing at school as well as in Senior B with the Oakville Titans come the summer of 2018. Playing against men for the first time, Smyth finished the summer with four goals and 12 points in 11 outings. 

He added that following his recovery from the ACL injury, he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to Senior A at that point, and the year playing Senior B helped him get acclimated to that level of competition.

As a senior, he was named a co-captain for RIT, while also earning USILA First Team All-American, First Team All-Liberty League, and IMLCA Second Team All-American honours. He played in all 22 games in 2019, being named a USILA Co-Long Pole Midfielder of the Year and the 2019 Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year.

Once he returned to Ontario, Smyth made the jump up to Major Series Lacrosse with the Oakville Rock, where he was able to play under Thunderbirds head coach Mike Accursi.

“My first impression (of Smyth) was that he’s just one of those defenders who you don’t really talk too much about, which is a good thing. It means he doesn’t make too many errors,” Accursi said. “For me, that consistency was something that we wanted; somebody that does a good job and plays good defence, and shows up every night, and Trevor definitely does that.”

Heading into the 2019 NLL Draft, Smyth had looked at the mock drafts and had a general idea of where he could go once the big day came around. He was slated to be a first-round pick and one of the first few defenders to hear their names called. He hadn’t spoken to Halifax during the draft process, but Thunderbirds head coach Mike Accursi was on the Oakville staff that summer, giving him an up-close look at Smyth during the MSL season. 

After taking Clarke Petterson with the fifth overall selection, the Thunderbirds were back on the clock with the 14th pick, and Smyth was a slam-dunk choice for Accursi and the team’s staff.

“We figured he might go a little bit higher. He was definitely someone we wanted with that pick, and I was shocked that he didn’t get picked up sooner,” Accursi said. “Obviously there were some surprises there, but we were glad that we were there (at No. 14), and we got the guy that we had hoped for. 

Smyth had some added stress during the draft, as the draft prospects sat in a back room at Xfinity Live in Philadelphia, PA, waiting for their names to be called. 

Smyth was able to walk onto the stage to accept his cap, shake hands with the commissioner, and then meet his new organization. Shortly after draft night, Smyth was back on the floor for his first National Lacrosse League training camp. 

From the start, Smyth was able to pick the brain of Thunderbirds defensive coach Billy Dee Smith, along with the likes of Scott Campbell, Graeme Hossack, and Brad Gillies. 

“When you come in, the guy that you naturally just gravitate to is Hoss,” Smyth said. “The number of times he’s won Defender of the Year and just how smart he is, he’s always a guy you want to be paying attention to. If you can pick up anything, even the small things from him, he’s a guy that has his game fine-tuned to the last detail. Then you look at Soupy (Campbell), and he’s 40 years old, but he’s in incredible shape and has been around for a long time.

“So whenever those guys speak up, you definitely want to take in everything that you can, because they’ve been through it all, and they’re trying to help you get better and help the team.”

Smyth and Gillies had played together for a single year with RIT – Gillies’ senior campaign was Smyth’s freshman season – so his presence within the locker room helped Smyth get settled quicker. 

Smyth made the roster out of camp and was a mainstay on the Halifax back end, making it into 12 games as a rookie. He was able to chip in a goal and an assist along with 45 loose balls and 10 caused turnovers. However, his first year was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the NLL 2020 season shut down and Major Series Lacrosse’s season cancellation in 2020, Smyth didn’t have a chance to get live box reps until he was back in camp with the Thunderbirds this past fall. 

Despite that, Smyth has shown no rust – quite the opposite, in fact. He’s cemented himself as a staple in the Thunderbirds’ lineup for every game this season with his play. Through 11 games this season, Smyth has three assists, 32 loose balls, and 11 caused turnovers – good for second-best on the team, behind only Jake Withers. He’s slotted into a perfect role within the team’s system and has become a player that is impossible to take out of the lineup.

“This year, he’s come in with a lot of confidence. Positionally, he’s always been sound, but he’s also confident in where he is and who he’s going up against. So, we can put him up against anybody and not be worried that he’s going to be beaten or make mistakes,” Accursi said of Smyth. “Playing with confidence as a defender is a huge part of it. If you’re always worried about getting beat, chances are you’re going to get beat. But he’s not worried about that.

“...Sometimes, the guy you’re not talking about the most is the guy that’s doing the most. Trevor is one of those guys that I see. We don’t need to talk about him too much, because we know he’s going to go out and do his job, he causes a lot of turnovers, and he’s really good on loose balls. He’s just stuck with what’s been working for him, and that’s playing solid defence shift in and shift out and just being a really steady rock for us back there.”

Smyth is just one piece to a Halifax defence that is arguably the deepest in the league. Colton Armstrong and Ryan Terefenko have also had breakout seasons on the back end, while fellow 2019 draftee Nonkon Thompson has seen time as both a forward and defender during stretches of the season. 

However, the 27-year-old has drawn some big assignments this season and has risen to the occasion each time. He continues to prove that he’s one of the unsung heroes for the Thunderbirds. He’s playing the best ball of his short professional career, something he credits to feeling more comfortable within the team. 

“I would say that in my rookie season, I was almost, in a way, playing to not make mistakes. As a rookie, you’re just trying to come in and do your job and not mess up,” Smyth said. “I think I’m just playing more confidently this year. One of the things that we always stress is making mistakes moving forwards, not backwards. I’d like to try and pick up my transition game. I feel like that hasn’t quite translated to the NLL game for me yet. But I’m not trying to give up defensive looks in order to find that part of my game.”

The Thunderbirds have gotten out to a blazing start in 2021, winning five of their last seven contests, while sitting second in the East with an 8-3 record on the year. The mix of playoff-tested veterans and hungry newcomers gives Halifax one of the most talented teams in the entire NLL, but it’s the bond that the players and staff share off the floor that makes the team so successful.

“This team is incredibly close, and it’s one of the closest groups that I’ve been a part of, and that’s incredibly important when it comes to on-floor production,” Smyth said. “You have to be able to trust your teammates and have a relationship with them. If you’re just going out there to do a job and don’t have that connection and don’t care that much about each other…You’re just fighting for yourself out there and not one another."

“So when you have that team mentality, it’s incredibly important, and it only motivates you more and pushes you and the guy standing next to you.”

With just seven games remaining in the regular season, the home stretch has arrived for the Thunderbirds. Their biggest challenge of the year lies ahead, as a crucial home-and-home weekend with the 10-1 Buffalo Bandits is on tap for Mar 26 and 27, respectively. The team will be aiming to hand the Bandits their first loss of the season at KeyBank Center before returning to the friendly confines of Scotiabank Centre for the back half of the doubleheader. 

Smyth will be looking to close out his sophomore campaign with a steady defensive presence to help Halifax reach its ultimate goal of hoisting the NLL Cup at the end of the season. 

“It’s incredibly exciting. To be perceived as a contender is important, but you can’t really look too much into that outside noise,” Smyth said. “You have to just chug along and push and continue to motivate each other. We just want to focus on the guys in this room, and that’s what’s really important.

“...We’re family. Everybody leans on each other, pushes each other, and motivates each other. I’m just focusing on what the team needs me to do.”

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