Spotlight: Dean Smith

Dal alum Dean Smith (BA'95, LLB'99) is on a mission to change the makeup of the amateur hockey dressing room

- December 18, 2023

Dean Smith at the rink with his son (Nick Pearce photo).
Dean Smith at the rink with his son (Nick Pearce photo).

Glance around any amateur hockey dressing room in Nova Scotia and the faces you’re likely to see are mostly male and mostly white. Halifax attorney Dean Smith (BA’95, LLB’99) is on a mission to change that.

In addition to his busy law career, Smith sits on the Board of Directors at Hockey Nova Scotia as the Chair of Diversity and Inclusion, where he works to make the sport more welcoming for people living with disablities, African Nova Scotian, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ players of all genders.

Smith says he’s unapologetic about demanding change and budget lines and he welcomes challenges. “I get frustrated all the time,” Smith says, “but I welcome the impediments; I welcome the roadblocks. Because if you can see them, you can address them and you can fix them.”

And his work is being recognized. In 2023, Smith received the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given to somebody who positively impacts their community through hockey. “Dean constantly works to create a friendly and safe space for everyone,” says O’Ree, who was the first Black player to compete in the NHL. “He gives back in so many ways to grow the game.”

On CBC News: NHL honours Halifax's Dean Smith with Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award

Growing the game is exactly what Smith had in mind when his Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at Hockey Nova Scotia noticed a lack of registrations from historically excluded players. When the task force asked parents to name their top three impediments to accessing the game, number one was cost, number two was time and number three was a lack of a sense of belonging. “It’s an echo chamber,” says Smith. “Everybody’s telling the same story from different communities.”

So, in addition to supporting underrepresented players, Smith makes sure to celebrate them too. Because “how can you look up to role models when you don’t see them?” he says. “And it’s not just having a certain number of players of colour in the NHL. What about in your community?”

The community level is where Smith thrives. In July 2023, Hockey Nova Scotia supported the HFX Pride Cup, a tournament entirely for LGBTQ+ players. Smith serves as lead instructor to the Black Youth Ice Hockey Program and also supports Breaking Ice—a program for new Canadians to learn hockey rules and jargon. “It has an impact on how our underrepresented communities see the game, and whether they feel invited or not,” Smith says.

For Smith, diversity isn’t a conversation that happens once and fixes everything. “We have to treat it as something that people become proficient at and continually learn,” he says. “That’s how we change the game.”

This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Fall/Winter 2023 issue. Flip through the rest of the issue using the links below.


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