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DeSmith earns opportunity with Pittsburgh

The netminder will serve as the backup to Matt Murray

by Jeff Carpenter @penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

In the Penguins' preseason schedule, Casey DeSmith manned the crease for only one period of action, plus an overtime.

Now that he's earned his first NHL call-up, and with a western Canada road trip approaching with a pair of back-to-backs, DeSmith could get some real game action in an NHL sweater relatively soon.

"I'm coming off a good season last year," DeSmith said. "Just biding my time, working hard, doing what I can on and off the ice. Things sometimes just work themselves out when you work hard and play hard, and I'm really fortunate that that happened."

DeSmith earned the call-up to Pittsburgh after posting sparkling numbers with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to begin the year, registering a 3-0 record in three starts with a 0.98 goals against average, .965 save percentage, and one shutout.

It wasn't just a quick burst to start the season that landed him in this position, either. DeSmith shone in 29 games for WBS last year, recording a 21-5-3 record with a 2.01 goals against average - which ranked first in the AHL - and a .926 save percentage.

DeSmith was named to the AHL All-Rookie team and earned a share of the Harry Holmes Memorial Award alongside Tristan Jarry, which recognizes the AHL's best goaltending duo. After spending time in Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre, DeSmith earned his first NHL contract with the Penguins on July 1.

Antti Niemi being placed on waivers and claimed by the Florida Panthers this week opened the door for DeSmith the opportunity to serve as the Penguins' backup goaltender to Matt Murray. It's been quite a journey for the 26-year-old after going undrafted and breaking into the professional ranks in the ECHL.

"Being drafted is really important, teams put a lot of stock in guys," DeSmith said. "I think it speaks a lot to the Penguins organization that they saw I was playing well and I put the time in. That they are giving me this opportunity and I hope to take advantage of it."

Prior to latching on with the Penguins organization, DeSmith spent three years at the University of New Hampshire, starring for the Wildcats between the pipes as a freshman. He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team, and through three seasons, his save percentage never dipped below .920 percent.

While at New Hampshire, DeSmith learned from Mike Buckley, the Penguins goaltending coach and the Wildcats goaltending coach in 2012. Buckley, like DeSmith, is also a New Hampshire native, and their relationship in Durham has transferred over to the Penguins organization.

"'Bucks' has been a really, really close friend," DeSmith said. "And more importantly, a really big mentor for me, at UNH as well as even down in Wheeling and at Wilkes last year. Over the summer I worked with him back in New Hampshire. It was really lucky he came into the Penguins organization, I was able to join him here. We've been able to work together for so long and I think that's really important for me."

The Penguins' schedule contains 19 back-to-backs this year, tied for most in the league, with 16 sets remaining, DeSmith knows that if he remains with Pittsburgh, a lot of his showings could be on that second night.

"It's challenging, no doubt," DeSmith said. "Thankfully I got a lot of experience doing that in Wilkes-Barre. Tristan Jarry would get the first game there and I would get the second or third game of the weekend. Hopefully that prepared me a little bit. Any game in the NHL is going to be a challenge, so just approach it like any other game."

The 6-foot, 181-pound goaltender is likely to get a chance to build off his confidence-inducing start to the year soon, as the Penguins' next pair of back-to-back games comes this weekend, with Minnesota on Oct. 28 and Winnipeg on Oct. 29.

While DeSmith is looking to approach his first game like any other, it will still be an incredibly special moment. In Tuesday's 2-1 overtime win over Edmonton on Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena, DeSmith didn't play, but still sat on the bench and was able to take in the sights of a NHL environment for the first time in his career.

"It was fun," DeSmith said. "Going out for warmups, in a pretty packed barn, an NHL rink, it's a dream come true. Even though I wasn't playing, it's still the same environment. It was definitely a surreal experience being out there for the first time. It was very special."

A lighthearted moment came before that game, when DeSmith walked into the locker room after staying out with the scratches to see a crowd of reporters waiting at his stall, to his complete surprise.

"Walk into the locker room, see a swarm of people and not knowing who they are interviewing, turns out to be me," he laughed when asked about having 'wow' moments. "Stuff like that. Being in the locker room with incredible talent, some of the best people to ever play the game. Stuff like that, little things like that are definitely wow moments."

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