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HARD WORK LEADS TO MEMORABLE NHL DEBUT FOR SMITH

By Suzie Cool (@SuzKewl) | Published on January 8, 2020

Imagine working 401 days straight.

No holidays, vacations, sick or personal days in between. Just 401 days of straight work to get the job done in order to get to the level that you strive to be at.

Now truly that’s unrealistic in the grand scheme of things, but for forward Dalton Smith, that’s probably what the last eight years of his life felt like.

Over the last eight years, Smith has accumulated 401 games as a professional hockey player in both the American Hockey League and ECHL. Of those 401 games, 341 have been played in the AHL, and of those 341 AHL games, 115 have been played right here with the Rochester Americans.

And what makes all of this so special?

The fact that it took six different affiliates, eight years in the pros and over 400 games during that eight-year stint for Smith to finally get his call to the show.

“Obviously it came with a lot of hard work, so it was very rewarding to get the opportunity after all the years. I think it makes it even better that I had that wait and to be so grateful and fortunate,” recalled Smith when asked about his bittersweet NHL debut with the Buffalo Sabres just last week.

WATCH: DALTON SMITH AFTER HIS FIRST PRACTICE WITH THE SABRES

On Dec. 30, 2019, Smith signed his second NHL contract of his professional career, this time with Buffalo, securing a two-way deal for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign. And the very next day, the 6-foot-2 forward laced up his skates as a Sabre at KeyBank Center to take on one of his former affiliates while decked out in blue and gold.

Smith’s NHL debut truly went by in the blink of an eye.

The 27-year-old logged 1:26 of ice time over four shifts against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And although now playing at the highest level, Smith didn’t miss a beat during his debut as he embraced his role and found the penalty box just eight seconds into the second period after roughing up Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn.

That penalty, though, is the exact thing that distinguishes Smith from others. A rare and unique skillset so appealing that the Sabres made the easy decision to elevate his American Hockey League contract to an NHL pact, affording the big the club the opportunity to call upon him whenever they deem necessary.

Since joining the Amerks during the 2017-18 season, Smith hasn’t necessarily been a player that’s wowed you on the scoresheet. The AHL veteran has racked up only four goals and 10 assists while here as a fan favorite in the Flower City and has produced a combined 77 points over his eight-year pro career. However, he’s most certainly caught your attention while contributing in other ways.

What Smith is best known for is a skillset that you can’t necessarily teach. The hard-nosed, tenacious forward has truly embraced his ‘tough guy’ role and creates an energy on the bench that makes the rest of his team know that he has their back.

“I think the energy I bring is something that they like. Finishing my checks, sticking up for my teammates and even on the bench just getting the guys going and being vocal to get under the others team’s skin,” explained Smith when discussing his standout skillset, no matter the level of play.

Although in the midst of his third season in Rochester, Smith didn’t begin his professional career here. Smith was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (34th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft and later went on to sign his first three-year, entry-level NHL deal with Columbus on Aug. 8, 2011.

Since being drafted, the Oshawa, Ontario, native has skated for six different organizations with seven of his eight pro seasons having been in the AHL. Within those seven AHL seasons, Smith has logged 646 penalty minutes, including three seasons of 100 or more penalty minutes. During his one season in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades, Smith spent a career-high 153 minutes in the penalty box.

Two NHL contracts, six organizations and more than 400 professional games. The one constant through it all being Dalton Smith, a player who personifies determination and has truly embraced the role that every team has seemed to bestow upon him, the rugged forward that won’t give up until he finally gets his call to the show.

The fight never stops to get to where you want to go, though, and Smith made it clear that there’s a lot more players out there just like him waiting for their special moment.

“This opens the door for a lot of people to just keep at it, you never know what’s going to happen,” reflected Smith after eight long years of hard work that finally lead him to that well-deserved NHL debut.