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Clark Smith on Sam Smith: 'He's a light. He's a gift.'

Sam Smith signed a contract with the Canadiens on Monday, before hitting the ice with his hockey heroes at the Bell Sports Complex

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

BROSSARD - The events of June 7, 2018 will forever be seared in the mind of young Sam Smith.

That was the day the 11-year-old Fredericton, NB native was officially diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma at IWK Health Centre in Halifax, NS.

"At first it was really hard," said Sam. "The moment we found out was probably one of the worst days of mine and my family's lives."

News of Sam's illness hit his parents, Clark and Leanne, extra hard, of course. 

"Everything went really fast. There was a lot of stuff that we didn't even understand," said Leanne. "I wrote everything in notebooks because unbeknownst to us, you hear Hodgkin's lymphoma, you think it's one thing, but there's a whole bunch of variations it could have been."

Eight days later, Smith had his first round of chemotherapy. It went on for four long months, followed by one month of radiation treatment.

"It was a pretty big disappointment for us to find out that the chemotherapy alone didn't work enough and he had to have the radiation," mentioned Leanne. "It was very disheartening for Sam."

But, Sam wasn't about to let the cancer win the battle. Neither were his caregivers.

One of them, in particular, did her very best to make him feel comfortable during that tough four-week stretch by incorporating Sam's passion for the Canadiens into his treatment, so to speak.

"When we went in, Jennifer was her name, she is also a Habs fan. She asked Sam what his favorite hockey team was, and he was all excited," recalled Leanne. "When they fit you for a radiation mask, it's very unpleasant, like you can't move, you're strapped down, you feel like you can't breathe. But, when she brought it back when he was about to start treatment and it was covered in Canadiens logos, the face lit up. It helped."

Fast forward to March 4, 2019, which marked another moment the Smiths won't soon forget.

That's when they learned that Sam's latest round of medical tests revealed no significant scarring on his lymph nodes and no active cancer cells in his body.

"That was very good news. We have to do that every three months for the first year post-treatment. It's very nerve-wracking, but his prognosis is good," shared Leanne. "With the radiation treatment, it brought his chances of living a cancer-free life up to 95%."

Joining the Habs

After courageously waging his war against his disease and coming out on top, Sam's wish to be a Hab for a day was granted on Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard with the help of the Children's Wish Foundation and the Canadiens Children's Foundation.

First up was a meeting in general manager Marc Bergevin's office. Accompanied by his parents and his sister, Sally, Sam signed a 24-hour contract with the club.

"It was just so cool when he walked out of his office," said Sam. "I was like, "That's Marc Bergevin!" When I signed my contract, though, that was even cooler."

Mr. Smith was ecstatic to see Sam put pen to paper with Bergevin coaching the youngster through the whole signing process line by line.

"Going in there and seeing him sign the contract was probably the biggest piece to this whole puzzle. That was probably the most important to Samuel. For that to happen first thing was very humbling," explained Clark. "It's been a rough year and it's moments like these for us that are important. I will be Habs fan for the rest of my life now. When I go home, I may even have my car painted blue and red."

Up next was a chance for Sam to hit the ice with some of his hockey idols before practice officially began.

After a brief chat with Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi and Carey Price, among others, it was Sam's turn to put his skills on display by going one-on-one with the All-World netminder.

"I scored on him a few times. I scored a nice one on him. It was really cool to score on Carey Price," said Sam, a defenseman for the Fredericton Peewee Kings back home. "At first, I wanted to go to each side a few times and then go bottom left. I scored on that, but after that he knew what I was going to do. So, I went up, I pulled it back, I was on the side of the net and I put it in. Gallagher wanted me to do the Pavel Datsyuk flip."

Apparently, Sam did plenty of prep work ahead of his matchup with the Canadiens' No. 31.

"He and I probably for the last week have been talking about what moves he was going to use if he had an opportunity to go against Carey. He is very methodical. He had it all planned out," explained Clark. "Every single move out there was premediated and planned. Max set him up pretty good. And Gally, they fed him a couple of good passes. He's in the history books now. He's the smallest Montreal Canadien in the history of the franchise."

While that might be true, it's easy to see that Sam - whose nickname is "Sam The Warrior" - also has a huge heart.

"In many ways, the "warrior" label really fits Samuel. He's very upbeat. The child that you saw out there, that's the genuine deal," said Clark. "He's a light. He's a gift."

On Tuesday night, Sam and his family will watch the Canadiens square off against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre to wrap up a magical experience.

It will be Sam's first NHL game, and there will undoubtedly be many, many more to come!

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