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Cole Smith scores first NHL goal

The former UND alternate captain scored for the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators left wing Cole Smith (36) and center Cody Glass (8) celebrate after a win against the Los Angeles Kings at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 21, 2023. Smith, a former UND alternate captain, scored his NHL goal in the game.
Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today Sports

NASHVILLE — Cole Smith stood on top of the crease Saturday night in the third period when a shot headed his direction.

The former UND alternate captain and Nashville Predators winger got his stick on it and deflected the puck past Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

It set off quite a celebration in Bridgestone Arena.

It marked the first NHL goal for Smith, who played high school hockey in Brainerd and college hockey in Grand Forks.

The goal came in Smith's 49th NHL game.

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"It feels great," Smith said. "It's super exciting. It's a little past overdue, but to finally get that one to kind of get the monkey off the back. . . hopefully the floodgates open up a little bit."

Smith's goal gave Nashville a 5-3 lead with 3:50 to go. The Predators won by that score.

"It's awesome," Smith said after the game. "I just want to do everything I can to help us win. It wasn't showing up on the scoresheet goals-wise. Tonight, to do that, it feels amazing and hopefully it can keep going."

Smith played four years at UND from 2016-20.

His senior season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, his line with Mark Senden and Gavin Hain, helped make UND a dominant force. The Fighting Hawks were No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings when the pandemic ended the season and they were 18-1 at home, where coach Brad Berry used last line change to put Smith's line on opposing teams' top players.

The Predators signed Smith as an undrafted free agent that spring.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound winger made his NHL debut on opening night in 2020-21. That was his only NHL game that season.

Smith played eight NHL games last season and has become a fixture for the Predators this year, suiting up in 40 games. He now has one goal and 10 assists in 49 career NHL games.

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"It's long overdue for Cole," Nashville coach John Hynes said about Saturday's goal. "He's had tons of scoring chances and opportunities. To me, the big thing I take away from it, is if you look at the reaction on the bench and the guys on the team when a guy like that scores, you get a reaction from the team. I think that shows you how much value, how well-liked he is and how respected he is in the game he plays and what he means to his teammates."

Smith said he'll also remember his teammates' reactions.

"I think that might mean more than anything," he said. "The close-knit team, it's the first one, everyone is excited for you. . . it's super cool."

During his stints in the American Hockey League, Smith scored plenty of goals.

He had 21 goals in 59 games for the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League last season. This season, he's strictly been with the NHL club.

Smith said he will probably give his first NHL goal puck to his mother.

Although he waited a while to get the first one, Smith said he didn't dwell on it.

"I'd say it was definitely in the back of the mind a little bit," he said. "But when the game comes, I don't want to focus on it. I want to go out and execute my kind of game. If it comes, I want to try to bury it. But it's something during the game, you can't think about, because then you're off your game. But it's definitely in the back of the mind a little bit on off days and after games."

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Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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