Soldotna High School sophomore Billy Smith will be taking his hockey game to the next level next fall.
Smith, a key member of the Stars' 2002 state-qualifying hockey team, was drafted last week by the Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Broncos of the Western Hockey League in the league's 2002 bantam draft.
And while just being drafted into the major junior hockey league is a feat in and of itself, Smith already has attracted some attention in the league as the first American skater ever to be drafted by the Broncos, and one of only four Americans ever to be drafted in the first round of the WHL draft.
"I was pretty surprised," Smith said.
Smith said the Broncos first noticed him playing for his midget A team, the South Central Wolves, at a tournament in Iowa.
Smith, who was named to the all-state first team at the conclusion of this year's hockey season, said the Broncos kept tabs on him during the past year, and gave him a call last week asking if he'd come and play in Swift Current.
"They contact you, want to know whether or not you'd play for them, then they draft you," Smith said.
Smith didn't have to do anything to make himself eligible for the draft; the league and the teams are responsible for identifying talent.
Smith said he will fly to Swift Current this week with his father, Chuck, to check out the town and the hockey facilities there. His next step will be training camp in August, where he expects to win a spot on the Broncos' roster for the 2002-03 season.
"This is a pretty big step from midgets to this," Smith said. "I think I'll do fine, as long as I'm prepared and ready to play."
Smith said his schedule won't change too much. He'll attend classes in the morning, then the rest of the day will be dedicated to hockey practice.
The WHL, which includes 19 teams in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, produces more NHL players than any other hockey organization in the world, and Broncos alumni include Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.
"I'm looking forward to it," Smith said.
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