CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – Alex Smith, the first-ever hockey coach at John Jay High School, is stepping down after 14 seasons, he told The Katonah-Lewisboro Times.
Smith coached the program from 1999 to 2002 and then from 2009 to 2020, leading the Indians to three section titles (2013, 2018, 2019) and a state championship appearance (2013). Smith has also taught social studies at John Jay High School since 1995.
“I’m retiring from teaching at the end of the year,” Smith said. “With that as the plan, I figured it might be a good time to step down from coaching as well. I think it’s important for coaches to be in the classroom.”
Smith had anticipated retiring in June, but John Jay schools closed in mid-March because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The school closures prevented Smith from properly saying goodbye to his players.
“I had to inform them through email, which was disappointing and upsetting to me,” Smith said. “I wanted to talk to the kids coming back. I was not able to meet with the team. I wish I was able to meet with the team.”
Smith, a former varsity goalie, graduated from Rye High School in 1980. After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Syracuse University, Smith continued his studies at American International College (Springfield, Mass.), where he became a graduate assistant for the hockey team. He then coached at Rye High School, the Brunswick School (Greenwich, Conn.) and Sandwich High School (Sandwich, Mass.).
He came to John Jay High School as a teacher before a hockey program existed. He served as an assistant coach for the girls’ basketball team, which won a New York State championship in 1996. Leading the hockey team, Smith went 185-100-18 across 14 seasons. Much of his success was achieved with Joe Posadas by his side. A 1987 John Jay graduate, Posadas has been a hockey coach for more than a decade.
John Jay’s most successful campaign came in the 2012-13 season, when the Indians went 23-2-1 but lost in the New York State championship game, 4-2, to CBA Syracuse. John Jay finished that season ranked No. 2 in the state by the New York State Sportswriters’ Association.
“That was a really special experience,” Smith said. “We had a couple of amazing journeys in the playoffs. That was really something. That was really our first taste of being a state-level team.”
The success was even more special because it was achieved alongside Sam Kaplan, a former John Jay captain who returned to be an assistant coach.
“It was fun to have him as a player, work with him as a coach, then see him go off on a coach as his own,” Smith said. “As you graduate from high school, you’re a life-long member of the John Jay hockey family. I feel strongly that the kids feel like there’s a special part of them that belongs to John Jay ice hockey, and they take that with them their whole lives.”
Smith said he will remain the “point person” for John Jay hockey until his successor is chosen.
“I’m comfortable with the decision,” he said. “I’m excited to see what the next part of my journey and my family’s journey together is. I look forward to helping whoever gets a chance to coach next. I feel just very fortunate to have had the experience.”
Be it the Friends of John Jay Hockey boosters club, Athletic Director Christian McCarthy, or the Katonah-Lewisboro school community, support for the hockey program has never been in short supply. And though their names won’t appear alongside Smith’s in the record books, his wife, Jill, and their four children deserve some credit for the program’s success, the coach said.
“I could not have had the coaching experience I had without my wife, Jill, and my family with me,” Smith said. “My family has been so supportive.”
John Jay made the playoffs their inaugural season in 1999 as No. 16 seed, but lost by 10 goals in the first round to No. 1 Pelham.
After the loss, Smith remembers thinking: "I wonder what Pelham does to be so good.”
Two decades later, opposing teams probably think: “I wonder what John Jay does to be so good.”
“It’s cliché, but we prided ourselves on hard work and taking care of our own end of the ice,” Smith said. “I think over the years we did a really good job in our defensive end. I would want our opponents to be ready for a battle, for three periods, regardless of what the score is.”
The section titles were special, Smith said, but he found greater joy in seeing the smiles on his players’ faces.
“I really remember enjoying watching the kids have fun and be successful. It’s really about the kids and their experience,” Smith said. “I’m so lucky to have so many good players over the years. A lot of the times I felt lucky to be along for the ride.”
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