It’s officially called the Summer Literacy Clinic, but there’s much more to it than one-on-one reading and tutoring. True, when you enter the library of Roberts PreK-8 School in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), you see third- and fourth-grade…
No One Will Outwork Us: Get to Know New Women’s Ice Hockey Coach Britni Smith on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
But that all changed when Flanagan retired at the end of last season and the Orange hired Britni Smith as the program’s second head coach.
As she looks to make her mark on the women’s ice hockey team, Smith is relying on a key principle that helped Syracuse soar to new heights in recent seasons, including a second trip to the NCAA tournament after capturing both the College Hockey America (CHA) regular season and tournament championships for the first time in history during the 2021-22 season: No one will outwork the Orange.
Smith comes to Syracuse with a decorated resume, excelling as both a defenseman with St. Lawrence University—Smith was a Top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as a defenseman during her senior year—and an accomplished assistant coach at Clarkson University and with Hockey Canada.
“I think Syracuse is a place that provides the complete package for the student-athlete experience and that’s important to me, because that’s something I got at St. Lawrence,” Smith says. “So I think as I’m getting into my first head coach role here, that’s something that’s very important to me, to provide that student-athlete experience that then when they graduate, they are proud to have been a part of this program. And if they could pick all over again that they would be picking Syracuse.”
Smith discusses why she wanted to become the Orange’s next head coach, how she relates to her student-athletes and what makes Syracuse University a special place. Smith also shares her coaching philosophy, what it was like to earn her first win with the Orange and how she fell in love with hockey while playing on a homemade rink in her hometown of Port Perry, Ontario.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
Check out episode 124 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Britni Smith, head women’s ice hockey coach. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01What was it about Syracuse University and our women's ice hockey program that made you want to be the next head coach?
I just felt like it was the right time for me to take that next step and that next challenge in my coaching career. When it comes to Syracuse specifically, obviously this is a fantastic institution and the resources provided to student-athletes here are impressive, to say the least. Giving our student-athletes the complete experience is something that’s important, something I’ve experienced as a player and that I want to provide as a coach. Whether it’s the education, the resources or the tight-knit community, this is a great place to be as a new coach wanting to build a program. The other thing that is a huge piece is the Orange pride. People bleed Orange around here, whether it’s students, fans, alumni or the community. It’s in their blood and it’s a very special experience to be a part of.
02How do you build those relationships and really gain the trust of your student-athletes?
Having Megan Quinn ’18 on staff is very important. She’s a little bit younger and she’s just removed from the program four years ago. She has that fresh-out-of-college feel to her. Having a well-rounded staff is very important. Personally, I think no matter how long you’ve been out, you know what student-athletes want. You know they want to have relationships with their coaches. They want to be able to come in, sit down on the couch and talk hockey, talk class or talk life. Just being open and honest and allowing that kind of relationship to organically build is very important.
03How would you describe the style of hockey that fans can expect from your team?
We will compete, and we will never be outworked. We’re a team that wants to be consistent for 60 minutes when it comes to our efforts, our attitude and our commitment. That’s something within our control, no matter who the opponent is and no matter what the score is. That’s a consistent thing we push in practice, and hopefully fans see that within our games.
04When did your love affair with hockey start?
I grew up on a farm that had a pond, which meant access to free ice time whenever you wanted. So I’m sure that helped. I actually spent a year figure skating, but definitely didn’t love that. I had some friends that were hockey players, so I made that transition and I think I was 4 or 5 when I actually started playing structured hockey and I loved it. It was just the atmosphere at the rink. It was a great place to go and be amongst friends and be with people that had common interests. From where I grew up, it was what you did. Everyone was on a pond or an outdoor rink, or watching the Maple Leafs. Hockey was just part of my upbringing.
05When did you realize you had a future in coaching, and why was now the right time to become a first-time head coach?
It wasn’t until after my college experience. I actually was going back to the University of Toronto to take a couple of classes to get into physical therapy and the coach asked if I would help out. I started helping part-time and just found a complete love for it. At that point I decided that maybe physical therapy wasn’t the answer and I made the shift to full-time coach. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity with Clarkson in 2014. Working with (Clarkson head coach) Matt Desrosiers, I had the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats that prepared me to be a head coach. That gave me some confidence in knowing that the foundation I have built over the last eight years put me in a place that I’m ready to take on that next challenge of being a head coach.
06What was it like to earn your first win as a head coach when Syracuse outlasted Merrimack College 3-2 in overtime on Sept. 30?
It was one of those moments that you don’t really recognize what just happened until you get back to the locker room. The players had a helmet they all signed that they gave to me after the game for the first win. In that moment, you take a step back and realize the achievement you’ve just been a part of. It was a very special moment and as we talk about team culture, that shows where our team culture is at when the players take that upon themselves to celebrate the success of others. It was a surreal moment.