A man who began his hockey career in Manitoba made his NHL debut Thursday night.
Cole Smith is playing this season as a rookie for the Nashville Predators and is the first through-and-through Steinbach Piston to make it to the big leagues.
Pistons Head Coach Paul Dyck says he could not be more pleased.
“When I first heard the news, there were some emotions that came out that I really didn’t expect,” remarks Dyck. “He spent two years in our program so it was an amazing day for him and a proud moment for our organization.”
Dyck says watching the game on Thursday was, in many ways, surreal.
“To see one of your former players playing in the NHL and making his dreams come true, it was really a cool moment.”
For Dyck, there was also a level of surprise mixed in with that pride. Smith only began playing for the Pistons when he was 19, which is rather late to be entering the junior hockey league if you are hoping to make a professional career out of the sport. In Dyck’s words, “that is probably the narrowest path to the NHL”.
Nevertheless, Smith’s talent got him noticed by Nashville last summer who sent him off to train with the Florida Everblades, their east coast affiliate. His performance there so exceeded expectations that Nashville officially brought him onto the team, and even sent him onto the ice during their very first of the season.
“Cole played really well,” says Dyck of the milestone. “It is a game he will never forget and one that he can build on. I think he should come out of yesterday with a lot of confidence.”
Technically, Smith is the second Steinbach Piston to touch the NHL. In the 2011-2012 season, Brett Lernout played six games for the team before moving to a different team in the league. Lernout went on to play a handful of games for the Montreal Canadians. To Dyck though, Smith’s success feels different as he played with the Pistons for two full seasons. In some ways, he says the young player feels like his son.
"I know his family extremely well and Cole and I have maintained a friendship since he left and I have been following him closely."
Dyck says he is proud of Smith’s drive and determination and expects he will have an exciting journey ahead of him.