CHN Staff Report
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Charles W. “Lefty” Smith Jr., who re-started the Notre Dame hockey program in 1968-69 and spent 19 seasons as its head coach, died yesterday of natural causes in his South Bend, Ind., home. He was 81.
After his final season as Notre Dame head coach in 1986-87, Smith became facilities manager at the University’s Loftus Sports Center until retiring from that role last month. He took part in the ceremonial opening faceoff in October at the first game in the new Compton Family Ice Arena — and dedication festivities had been scheduled for Feb. 3-4 to honor Smith and the Compton Family Ice Arena rink that bears his name.
“It is difficult to imagine Notre Dame without Charles ‘Lefty’ Smith,” said Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick. “From the time I attended my first hockey game as a freshman to the time I spent with him at his retirement party a few weeks ago, Lefty had been a prominent, colorful and impactful fixture at our University. Lefty’s legacy will be measured not so much in the program he built or the games hewon, but rather the thousands of lives he touched as a coach, teacher, administrator, father and husband — a legacy that we had the privilege of honoring with him in naming the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena. We will miss him greatly, but we will never forget him.”
Smith retired from coaching in 1987 with 307 career victories. In his time, he coached six All-Americans, and finished second in the WCHA twice (1972-73, 1976-77). He was named WCHA coach of the year following the 1972-73 season.
In 1981-82, the Irish moved to the CCHA, and won the conference championship that season. Among players on that team was former Irish head coach Dave Poulin (current vice president of hockey operations for the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs).
Smith served two years as president of the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) and also coached the Central team at the 1978 National Sports Festival. Eight members of that team would go on to be members of the gold-medal winning 1980 United States Olympic team. In 1992 he was inducted into the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame and in 2003 was named a “Legend of Hockey” by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation.
Smith and longtime Irish assistant Tim McNeill combined to start the Irish Youth Hockey League that first brought youth hockey to the South Bend area.
Born Jan. 5, 1930, Smith got his start in coaching in South St. Paul, Minn., where he was instrumental in developing that fabled high school program before moving to South Bend. A 1951 graduate of St. Thomas University, where he was a standout hockey and baseball player, Smith became an assistant coach at South St. Paul in 1953 and took over as head coach in 1958. He remained there until 1968, turning in a record of 201-69-11 before leaving to start the hockey program at Notre Dame.