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Smith's family and friends celebrate his NHL debut

Dad Gary: 'Tears almost came to my eyes'

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- It was a monumental night for the Smith family Friday night at Little Caesars Arena.

Givani Smith, the power forward taken by the Red Wings in the second round, 46th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, was making his NHL debut as the Wings hosted the Buffalo Sabres.

On Thursday, Givani Smith called his father, Gary, with a question.

"He called and said, 'Dad, what are you doing tomorrow?' I said, 'I'm going to work Saturday morning,'" Gary Smith said. "He goes, 'Well, I'm playing in Detroit.' So I knew right away. And I don't miss work. So right away I told my job, 'I'm not coming in tomorrow.' They were okay with it."

Just as Smith's aunt, Gary's sister, Maureen, was okay with it when she got a similar call.

"He said, 'Auntie Maureen, what are you doing tomorrow night? I said, 'I'm taking your niece out,'" Maureen Smith said. "'How about 7 o'clock?' I said, 'I don't know.' He says, 'Well, Auntie Maureen, I just got suspended.' And I said, 'What? Well, I'll see what I can do.' He said, 'Oh, but they called me up. Can you come?' I said, 'Oh, sure! I'll have to tell her I can't make it.' He was so excited."

No one was more excited than Gary and Maureen Smith when they saw Givani skate out for his first official NHL shift.

"Tears almost came to my eyes. It's amazing," Gary Smith said. "He works hard, he really does. I'm happy for him."

Tweet from @FOXSportsDet: Givani Smith made his NHL dream happen. The result? One proud father. Givani's dad, Gary, chats about what this means to him with @IAmTrevorT.#LGRW #MyHockeytown

Maureen Smith said she wouldn't have missed seeing her nephew's debut.

"I'm really proud of him," she said. "I'm so, so happy to be here tonight.

"He plays with such confidence, which is nice, for his first game."

Gary Smith said Bob Thrower, who coached Givani many years ago with the AAA Mississauga Senators, also made the trip from Toronto to Detroit.

"He said from the first time he saw Givani Smith, he said, 'I want that guy on the team,'" Gary Smith said. "And he could barely skate. He was with him ever since. Probably around 7 (years old). He was with him for a long time. Then there was a time he said, 'I can't coach him anymore because he's getting out of my hands, he's getting too big.' So he recommended another coach, who took both his son and my son so (they were) always together. Great kid."

Those three were just part of the large Smith cheering section, which brought a smile to Smith's face when he was asked about it after the game.

"It means a lot," Smith said. "Just showing how much support I have it was huge. I didn't do this by myself and I thank everyone that helped me out along the way. I'm happy that they made the trip to come see me."

Smith's older brother, Gemel, was not able to be there for the game as he plays in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

"He's excited," Gary Smith said. "I spoke to him and he said, 'Just tell him not to be afraid. Just go out there and play his game.' So Gemel really enjoys it as well, the moment."

Both Gary and Maureen Smith said that Givani had earned this opportunity through his commitment to his sport.

Smith has spent the last couple of summers in the metro Detroit area so he could train with other prospects and continue to develop the bond they share.

"I don't even see him," Gary Smith said. "He doesn't want to come home because he loves hockey. That's his passion and I'm really proud of him."

"I said, 'Don't you want some time for yourself?'" Maureen Smith said. "He says, 'No, I want to go work out, I want to make sure I'm doing the right thing.' So he put his friends aside just to work out and to make it here tonight. That's a good thing. He loves hockey. He's been playing for a long time."

Smith played 13 shifts for 11:01 (2:26 on the power play), had two shots, one hit and was even.

Although he and his family were likely disappointed in the 2-0 loss to the Sabres, it will still be a night that they'll never forget.

"It's special," Gary Smith said. "The Detroit organization did a real good job in bringing me here. I'd like to thank them. It's awesome.

"Words can't express the way I feel inside really."

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