DALLAS — Gary Smith is re-routing his long drive to Dallas.
That’s what happens when your son gets called up to play his first NHL game and you’re already driving from Toronto to Texas.
The original plan was for Gary Smith to drive his son Gemel Smith’s car to Austin and fly back to Canada after a couple days. But Gemel got his first NHL call-up from the Dallas on Friday morning and is going to make his NHL debut Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“He should be here at night time, not sure if he’ll be here in time for the game,” Smith said. “He left a day or two days ago.”
In a perfect world that drive would started one day earlier for Gary and would have guaranteed his attendance Saturday.
But you can’t blame him. There weren’t any plans on Smith getting called up and making his NHL debut before Patrick Sharp (concussion) and Patrick Eaves (lower body) were injured on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Smith woke up Friday morning planning on playing for the Texas Stars in an AHL game against the Ontario Reign that night. He arrived at the rink in California and while Texas was about to go through pre-game video, Dallas Stars assistant general manager Scott White pulled him aside and shared the news.
“You never really know,” Smith said. “As soon as he told me I was definitely excited.”
This was a highly-unexpected call-up if you look at Smith’s past couple seasons. Last year, he was a middling AHL player at best and spent time in the ECHL. Before Dallas training camp he was projected to be a bottom-six forward for the Texas Stars and would have to fight to keep his AHL job.
But then training camp started and Smith almost won an NHL job as injuries ran rampant for the Stars. He appeared in all seven games for Dallas in the preseason was constantly praised by Dallas coach Lindy Ruff.
“The plan wasn’t to play him in that many preseason games,” Ruff said. “With (Mattias) Janmark and (Cody) Eakin both going down we were pretty well depleted. We had no (Tyler) Seguin, so when I kept going to centermen and looking for players it ended (with) Gemel Smith’s name coming out of the hat the entire time.
“More than that, I thought he really played well,” Ruff added. “He got some confidence. I thought there was a couple games that his speed was tough on the opposition. So, it’s a great reward for the work he did in camp.”
Smith then went down to the AHL and Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal used him in all situations. One year after being an afterthought for the AHL club, Smith was taking key defensive zone face-offs, getting power play time and established himself as Texas’ most consistent forward through three games.
Now Smith wants to carry that momentum into his NHL debut. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be up and Eaves could be ready for Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.
If Eaves isn’t ready, or if Smith plays well against Columbus, Gerry Smith will have a better chance and less of a rush to watch his son play an NHL game.
“We’ll see,” Smith said. “Hopefully I’m still around Tuesday.”