Evan Smith ’20 and Mitchell Smith ’20 wear numbers 13 and 14, respectively, on the backs of their hockey sweaters, numbers that provide the only distinguishing detail when you see the two forwards flying down Ingalls Rink. From their hard-nosed, high-powered playing style to their flowing locks — recently voted the second-best in the country in an NCAA video — the Smith twins bring a unique yet identical style to the Yale hockey team.
Composing half of the Canadian contingent on the team, the brothers started out playing together and never stopped on the path to becoming Yale’s first ever twin duo.
“Playing with my brother is like second nature,” Mitchell Smith said. “I’ve played on the same team as him my whole life and I’ve played on the same line as him ever since I started playing AAA hockey [around age 13]. It’s been an advantage playing with him for so long because whenever we change teams we don’t have that awkward stage of finding out who you play well with.”
Before they came to Yale, the Smiths played for two seasons together in the United States Hockey League, America’s top junior hockey league, donning the colors of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Facing off against many future college foes, as well as a few teammates, the Smiths soared. In 2015-16, left winger Mitchell Smith ranked second on the Saints with 40 points, split between his 16 goals and 24 assists across the grueling 60-game season. On the same line, center Evan Smith potted 17 goals to also rank second on the team, combining with his 20 assists to put up a 37-point statline. Fellow forward Nathan Sucese, who has starred for a revelatory Penn State team that has spent the majority of the year atop the NCAA hockey polls, ranked first in both of those categories.
In Dubuque’s run to the USHL finals after a third-place conference finish in the regular season, Evan and Mitchell Smith put up a nearly-identical 10 and nine points, respectively, in the 12 games they played. Going into the recruiting process during their time in juniors, the Smiths never contemplated splitting up.
“We thought we were going to go to the same school the whole time,” Evan Smith said. “To be honest a lot of the schools considered us to be a package deal. Just from playing together and being so close it made a lot of sense to go together.”
Head coach Keith Allain ’80 won the recruiting battle to lure the duo to New Haven, and both forwards have logged significant minutes on the ice their freshman year, both in even-strength and special teams situations. Mitchell Smith has notched two goals and an assist, while Evan Smith’s stats mirror his, with a goal and two helpers.
If their first college goals are anything to go by, the Smiths possess a flair for the dramatic. Evan Smith fired home his first career goal on the power play late in the second period to provide the decisive finish in a 4–2 out-of-conference victory against Connecticut in early January. Mitchell opened his account with a late equalizer against league-leading Union with only two-and-a-half minutes to play, only for the Bulldogs to let the game slip away on the next shift.
“It’s awesome in our case because it’s like having two of the same player,” fellow forward Will D’Orsi ’20 said. “Not only are they on the same page with every rush up the ice, but typically whatever one can do, the other can do just the same, so whatever weapons one has, the team has two of them. Not to mention they’re great penalty killers together.”
The Smiths are currently one of only two twin duos in the Division I NCAA hockey. The others, Jonah and Nathan Renouf, are both forwards at the University of Alaska Anchorage. They began playing this year after transferring. Last season, there was only one set of twins in the NCAA: Colgate’s Tylor and Tyson Spink, who graduated. The duo was ranked one-two in points for the Raiders in their senior year, and Tyson Spink was included in the first round of 66 nominees of the Hobey Baker award for best player in men’s NCAA hockey.
With their offensive skill combined with an ability and desire to possess the puck and control the game in all three zones, the Smiths look to remain fixtures in the Yale lineup for years to come. With their identical looks, it has taken their teammates a lot of time and effort to learn to differentiate the two, who both live in Timothy Dwight College.
“It took me about two weeks to tell them apart and that was after seeing them multiple hours every day,” D’Orsi said. “Now it’s easy, but it was definitely awkward when I wasn’t sure which was which, and just had to say ‘Smitty’. Having identical twins on the team offers a unique dynamic; it’s fun seeing the differences among the many similarities and getting to know each one individually rather than just referring to them as ‘the twins.’ I think Mitch is a little quieter, but the better looking twin.”
Yale plays a home-and-home with Brown this weekend and the Eli faithful will see the Smith twins in person at home on Saturday night.