By Lindsay Kramer
The best birthday presents that Norfolk forward Radek Smolenak has gotten the last two years are ones he’s earned himself.
On Dec. 3, 2007 – his birthday – Smolenak was recalled from Mississippi of the ECHL to Norfolk. On Dec. 2, 2008, he was promoted from Norfolk to Tampa Bay.
Smolenak played in six games for the Lightning before returning to the Admirals. With that in mind, there’s only one thing to wish for come early December 2009.
“Hopefully, I’ll be an NHL player by that time,” he said.
Or maybe a lot sooner. Smolenak, a third-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2005, has dug his skates in, refusing to give up anything he’s earned so far.
Smolenak played in 20 AHL games for Springfield in 2006-07, producing just a single assist. When he was promoted from Mississippi to the Admirals in the middle of 2007-08, he finished the year with 15 goals in a half season. This season, the 6-foot-3, 204-pound Smolenak has 12 goals and 10 assists in 26 games for Norfolk.
“If you want to be an NHL player, it doesn’t take a day or two weeks,” said Smolenak, 22. “It can take a couple of years. When I was down in the ECHL, I realized I had to change my whole game. I played a little tougher. I learned to play every shift.”