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Smith hopes to fly high in debut

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Smith made his debut Thursday, skating more than 19-minutes in the Wings 5-2 loss to the Sharks. (Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, Calif. – It comes just once in a lifetime – if it comes at all – for a young professional hockey player. And that time, Brendan Smith hopes, will be a memorable one for him and his family when he makes his NHL debut in a game against the Sharks tonight at HP Pavilion.

“I called mom and dad and they were more excited than I was,” said Smith, a suburban Toronto native. “They’ve gone through all of the think-and-thin with me as well, so I think it’s a testament to them too. They’re all excited.”

His family was so thrilled by the news that his parents Lester and Deirdre, and older brother Rory, booked a last-minute flight from Toronto to the Bay Area, with hopes of arriving to the arena just before game time.

“They caught a flight this morning,” said Smith, who was the Wings’ first-round draft pick in 2007. “They said that they’ll leave me alone before the game and then talk to me after.”

There won’t be any wasted words on the ice either tonight between Smith or his defensive partner, Niklas Kronwall.

“I’ve practiced with him, obviously, and have also watched him in camp last year and this year, he talks a lot out there and makes it easy for his teammates,” said Kronwall, in his eighth NHL season. “I think he’ll be just fine.”

The anticipation of playing in his first NHL game has been overwhelming at times for Smith, which is far different from many players who usually are thrust into the lineup upon their call-up.

Smith learned of his call-up last Sunday after Ian White suffered a fractured cheekbone that prevented the veteran defenseman from making the west coast trip. But before Smith could be inserted into the lineup tonight he had to serve the last of an eight-game NHL suspension, which he did Tuesday in St. Louis.

“You just got thrown in there and there was no time to think about it whatsoever,” said Kronwall, referring to his first NHL game in Dec. 2003. “I think Brendan’s been waiting for this day to come. He’s been looking really good in practice, he’s been working really hard and I think he’s ready, no doubt.”

Smith, 22, will become the second Wings’ prospect to make his NHL debut this season. Forward Gustav Nyquist played in his first league game on Nov. 1.

Besides taking regular shifts with Kronwall tonight, Smith – who replaces Mike Commodore in lineup – will also see some power-play time opposite of captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

“Nick likes to play on his forehand-side and Smith likes to play on his off-side,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said, “so we’ll see what happens.”

Babcock said that he doesn’t expect Smith to play outside of his comfort zone, but doesn’t want him to be timid, either.

“Get the puck going, and skate and be assertive. Be confident. That’s the kind of kid he is anyway,” Babcock said. “Play your game and we’ll deal with it from there. Don’t come out here and be cautious and be careful. Just play and get the puck going and get it going for us.”

Undoubtedly, butterflies and nervousness will be something Smith must deal with once the team returns to HP Pavilion later this afternoon. It’s just part of the debut process, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, whose first game was in Calgary in Feb. 2008.

“I remember I was very excited for that first game,” Ericsson said. “I didn’t think that I was very nervous at first, but then with about two-minutes before we went out onto the ice is when it hit me. He’s going to be nervous, but I think that’s a good think.

“The nerves will go away and he will be more confident as the game goes on.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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