ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – You may have thought it, but Trevor Smith never did.
The 27-year-old North Vancouver native never let his mind wander to the dark side, never let himself think he might never get back to the National Hockey League.
Smith played in just seven games for the New York Islanders during the 2008-09 season, but had been stuck in the American Hockey League ever since with Bridgeport, Springfield, Syracuse and at the time, Norfolk.
"I took it as this is where I’m playing, it is what it is, and I love it," Smith said. "You just have to take it as it comes, so I just want to keep getting better all the time and try to control what you can."
But it seems the personable Canadian finally found another organization that would give him the well-deserved second chance in the NHL, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have called him up for the second time this season after an All-Star season with the Admirals.
The 57 points he’s tallied in 50 games in the AHL are the most since that 2008-09 season with the Sound Tigers, which was a year removed from a 22-game stint in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies.
"It was actually a pretty slow start for me," said Smith of his transition from his collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire to the professional ranks.
"It took that season to transition from college where it was kind of a run and gun to a more structured system. It took me a while, so that’s how I ended up in the ECHL for a bit. I got to enjoy my time there, but I got a kick in the (rear) and got a good confidence boost and it’s really helped."
Smith went straight to the AHL after his NCAA eligibility was up, playing in eight games with the Sound Tigers in the 2006-07 season.
That made his assignment to the ECHL the following season tough to take, but Smith showed maturity beyond his years at the time in handling the move.
"I took it in stride," Smith told ECHL.com at the AHL All-Star Game.
"It’s always hard to go the opposite of the way you want to go, but going down there, it was in Utah and it was in a great city. I had a lot of fun while I was there, they had a great bunch of guys. I just tried to use it to get my game back to where I wanted it to be. It was an early Christmas present to come back up, and I haven’t looked back."
Smith made things look easy with the Grizzlies, posting an 11-14-25 line in 22 contests before heading back to Bridgeport for good. It was the next season in which he’d put things together at the AHL level, scoring a career-high 30 goals, and earning that first taste of the big time.
"It was unbelievable, what a feeling," he said. "That taste I got makes you want to go back, that’s what we play for."
He even scored his first and so far only NHL goal on Jan. 8, 2009 against the Calgary Flames.
"It was a turnover at the blue line, and (Tim) Jackman took it down the right side and threw it on net.," he recalled. "I picked up my backhand, forehand…it was open net, rebound tap-in. It was awesome, it was on Kiprusoff."
Smith now finds himself back in the NHL, where he’s played well, recording two assists in his first five games with the Lightning.
Cory Conacher, another ECHL alum who played in the AHL All-Star Game, is teammates with Smith with Norfolk, and credits his veteran teammate with helping him in his own breakout season.
"He’s one of those guys who’s got a lot of experience and a lot of skill," Conacher told ECHL.com
"He’s easy to play with, and he communicates well. He passes the puck well, he finds guys well. He’s got a good shot and he’s got everything you need in a player. That’s why they gave him the opportunity to play in Tampa, and I’ve got to congratulate him for that. He’s having a great year this year."