WEST HAVEN – As a sophomore Notre Dame-West Haven senior goalie Connor Smith was at the bottom of the team’s depth chart, behind two upperclassmen. When the team took a trip to New Hampshire for a preseason game, Smith was left home.
“We had a feeling he was a strong goalie, but he would need time to develop,” Notre Dame-West Haven coach Larry Vieira said.
Smith wasn’t happy about it, though, and when he got his chance in the second game of the season he made the most of it. Smith made 22 saves in a 5-2 victory over Notre Dame-Fairfield.
“Quite honestly it wasn’t a genius move,” Vieira said. “We just rolled the dice and said, ‘you know what let’s give him a shot and see what he does,’ and we won the game.”
On the back of his play, Notre Dame-West Haven ran the table and reached the Division I finals that year. “(Being left home) motivated me and it was a big part of what happened that season,” Smith said.
In his junior year, Smith won 14 games and posted a 2.10 goals against average with a .941 save-percentage. He led the team to the SCC/SWC championship game and the top seed in the state tournament.
“I’m not going to compare him to Tom Brady, because I am a Packers fan,” Vieira said. “But Brady has that It-factor and Connor just has that, he just has it.
“He’s a winner and the kids around him want to play for him.”
This season, Smith has continued to win. He is 2-0 with a 1.80 goals against average leading No. 3 Notre Dame-West Haven to an undefeated start.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Notre Dame-West Haven’s Zach Schroeder said. “Some of the saves he makes, the way he moves his body, I feel like if I tried to do that, I would break every bone in my body.”
The senior defenseman has had a front row seat watching Smith play since before they become teammates.
Schroeder, who is from North Branford, and Notre Dame-West Haven senior forward John D’Errico, from Hamden, both played for East Haven youth hockey. Smith played for Yale Youth.
“I used to hate him when I was younger,” Schroeder said. “Because he was so good.”
Schroeder and D’Ericco got the last laugh in youth hockey before becoming teammates at Notre Dame.
“I actually scored the game-winning goal against him in the state (peewee semifinal),” D’Ericco said. “He said it hit his stick and it went in.”
Smith, an Orange native, remembers that game and had a laugh when asked about it. “Yeah, he did score on me,” he said. “It was not fun.”
Laughing is something Smith is known to do. Often.
Vieira said that he isn’t like the other goalies. He doesn’t like to be quiet or left to himself on game day.
During an 8-2 victory over Immaculate on Monday, Smith allowed just one goal and was pulled before the third period. Yet, he still wanted to stay in the game. “Coach, I know I am not going to play the third period. Can I play forward?” Vieira recalled Smith asking.
“That’s Connor,” Vieira said. “No stage is too big for him. He takes everything, and he makes it a light situation. That permeates into the locker room where he is not a nervous wreck. he’s a jokester.”
Smith agreed that he is not a stereotypical goalie, but he has his own quirks.
“I am definitely weird but in my own way,” he said. “I can’t sit silent because if I get in my own head, I get nervous before the game. I have to talk to people and make jokes and stuff.
“That is who I am.”