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Jeremy Smith's Patience Pays Off

The netminder made his NHL debut after eight seasons in the minors

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

NEWARK, N.J.--Goaltender Jeremy Smith has had to deal with his fair share of long minor-league bus rides through the back roads of North America during his eight professional seasons of hockey.

Those extended trips and countless hours working on his craft finally culminated Tuesday night as the 27-year-old made his NHL debut for the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith made 37 saves in his first outing and the only thing that might have made the night any more special for the journeyman goalie would have been a victory win. Despite a valiant comeback effort, the Avs lost 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

"I felt pretty good. I felt comfortable out there, so that's the main thing," Smith said. "We played well, but it would be nice to get the win."

At 27 years and 307 days old, Smith became the second-oldest netminder to make his debut in Colorado/Quebec franchise history. Only Sergei Mylnikov was older when he played his first NHL game on Oct. 26, 1989 with the Nordiques.

Smith's ride to the NHL included 43 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL before another 265 in the American Hockey League with Milwaukee, Springfield, Providence, Iowa and this season with the San Antonio Rampage, the Avs' minor-league affiliate.

His journey to get to where he was on Tuesday night is one that his teammates respect.

"I think it takes a lot of perseverance on his part to stick with it and not get down on yourself after a lot of years in the minors, and he got his chance tonight and I think he did a great job," said defenseman Mark Barberio.

Smith found out he was going to start against the Devils on Monday night, allowing just enough time for the Dearborn, Michigan, native's family to fly in for the occasion.

When game day finally arrived, not much changed in his mindset. He got ready like he always had for all those contests as a starter in the American League and a backup in the NHL.

"It was relieving because the day has come, but also it was preparation, just getting ready for the game and doing what I do every time I play," Smith said.

The start was anything but ideal for the goalie, as New Jersey scored on a scramble in front of the net 2:04 into the opening period. Smith made the first two saves, but the puck squeaked out to Pavel Zacha in the slot and the young forward had an open net to shoot at.

"It's not a good thing to let up a goal, but in my mind I just took a deep breath," Smith said. "I was thinking, 'Well that's out of the way. Nothing you can do now but keep playing your game.'"

Smith settled down as the game continued and went on to make 16 saves in the second period and another nine in the third to keep Colorado in the contest.

Video: Jeremy Smith makes his NHL debut

His best stop of the night was in the middle frame as he denied Taylor Hall's rebound chance in front with a sprawling save.

"I thought he was fantastic," Avs head coach Jared Bednar said of his starter. "He was our best player by a country mile."

You could hardly blame him on the other two goals against.

The next marker came after he was squarely screened in front and couldn't see an outside shot by Andy Greene midway through the second period. The call on the ice was originally ruled no goal due to goaltender interference, but the Devils used their challenge and the play was eventually overturned.

"I spoke to the ref, and he said if that guy bumps me at the same time the puck goes in, it's no goal," Smith noted afterward. "But they said they looked at the replay and the puck went in just a half-second before, which is the right call. He did his job screening me, so hat's off for him."

The last tally of the night with 3:35 left in the middle stanza was the result of some nice passing during a 2-on-1 rush and ended with Kyle Palmieri tapping in the puck on a late feed.

"I played for the Palmieri shot and then I got over for the Hall shot," Smith said. "He made a great play backdoor. That's another one where we'll look at the video and see if I can get over quicker or if there's anything I can do differently."

Bednar called it a bad break as the puck jumped over Matt Nieto's stick at the left wall in the New Jersey end and resulted in the rush the other way.

"Everyone was already heading toward the net. When it jumped over his stick, their guy just chipped it by him and he was gone by him and Barberio," Bednar said. "They got caught in a tough spot because of that puck."

Signed as a free agent on July 1, Smith began the year in San Antonio to help provide organizational depth at the goaltending position. He put together a 5-8-1 record, 2.57 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 17 games with the Rampage before being recalled by the Avs for the second time this season last Wednesday.

He had played the role of backup goalie eight times this season behind Calvin Pickard, including the last three outings.

But not this night. As the team took the ice for warmup, it was Smith leading them out. It was also his teammates that held on the bench as the netminder unknowingly took one lap around the ice alone, partly as a prank and partly as a way to give him his time in the spotlight.

He certainly earned it and is hopeful for many more moments like it.

"It's been a long 27 years but today it's just not the end. It's just the beginning," Smith said.

Video: COL@NJD: Smith takes a solo lap during warmups

BARBERIO NETS FIRST

Mark Barberio recorded his first goal in an Avalanche uniform, getting the team on the scoreboard at 6:43 of the second period.

His first marker of the season came after he snuck in from the backside and finished off tape-to-tape passes from Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. That tied the contest 1-1.

"We had talked about it in the first intermission that the backdoor play might be available, and I thought we executed well from the breakout right into the zone," Barberio said. "We made some crisp passes and that was a really nice feed from Landy. I just had to put it in."

It was the Montreal, Quebec, native's first goal in 33 NHL games, with his last coming on March 12, 2016 versus the Minnesota Wild as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

Barberio was playing in his sixth contest with the Avalanche since being picked up on waivers from the Canadiens on Feb. 2. His first points with his new club came in a two-assist night versus his old Habs teammates on Feb. 7.

LANDESKOG PLAYS 400TH

Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog appeared in his 400th NHL contest on Tuesday, becoming the first player from the 2011 draft class to reach the milestone.

Landeskog, who was picked second overall in that draft, also has the most points among players selected that year with 269 (111 goals and 158 assists).

He added to career total in the second period, as he had the primary assist on Mark Barberio's tally. Landeskog has recorded two goals and four assists in his last six games.

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