A KEY figure from one of the North-East’s most successful sports teams of recent years has died.

Paul Smith captained Durham Wasps ice hockey team during its heyday and gifted fans some of their greatest memories.

The Wasps began their life in 1946 and maintained a degree of popularity up until the 1970s.

But it was the period from 1982 to 1992 when they enjoyed their real heyday, and Mr Smith was one of the leading lights of the game in those years.

The city team dominated British ice hockey during those ten years, winning the Heineken Championship four times, the British National League six times, and the Norwich Union Cup on three occasions.

As captain and player-coach, Mr Smith was one of the most influential players at that time alongside his brother Damian and Canadian Mike O’Connor.

He led them to the sports' first ever grand slam winning all domestic honours in the 1991-1992 season, was named 'coach of the year' and is in the top ten all-time leading premiership goal scorers for the sport.

Smith also played internationally for England and Great Britain and was the youngest ever player to break into the senior side when, at just 15-years-old, he travelled to China for the World Championships.

He went on to represent his country in both European and World Championships over a 15 year period.

Other roles he held in sport included spells with British Olympic Association and the Tony Blair Sports Foundation.

The ice rink and hockey were in the Smith family’s blood – he was born in the family home at Bishops Mill on the site of the rink which had been built by his great-grandfather Icy Smith.

After hockey, Mr Smith worked in London but would never agree to meetings on Friday afternoons or early Monday mornings as he always made it home to County Durham at the weekend.

Wife of 32 years Paula said: “He was absolutely passionate about the ice hockey, it was our lives at that time.

“The girls would go to home games but they have no real idea of his achievements, how huge it was to the city.

“He was a huge family man, he lived and breathed for us all.”

Mr Smith died at home in Brancepeth, near Durham City, on Wednesday at the age of 57. He had been diagnosed with a rare thyroid cancer in 2001.

Father to Victoria, 29, and Rebecca, 26, and 'gramps' to 11-month-old Isabella Heidi, Mr Smith was their hero for his central role within the family beyond all his sporting success.

Mrs Smith added: “His two children and granddaughter were the light of his life, he was an amazing father and the most fantastic husband.

“We are a very close-knit family, he saw his parents Tom and Jean every day and the bond he had with his granddaughter was incredible– she had a smile only for him.

“He will be a huge loss to us all.”

Close family friend, photographer Keith Taylor said: “Paul was a great friend for many years, he was brave and very modest about his achievements– the greatest and one of which he was most proud being his family.”