Hockey: Smith enjoys first full season in NHL
Catching up with former Brainerd Warrior Cole Smith.
BRAINERD — Playing his first full season in the National Hockey League as a member of the Nashville Predators proved rewarding for 2014 Brainerd High School graduate Cole Smith.
“My first year was pretty special,” Smith said in a phone interview Monday, April 24. “Coming into camp (last fall), I was not sure how things would work out. But I was fortunate to earn a roster spot, and the season was really rewarding.”
Smith didn’t have a point in nine NHL games with Nashville over the previous two seasons. He mostly played in the developmental American Hockey League.
But this year, the 27-year-old Smith was a regular forward with the Predators and finished with four goals and 17 points and 60 penalty minutes in 69 games. His first goal, scored in his 49th NHL game, came against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 21, 2023.
“That was a highlight for me since it was a long time coming,” Smith said of the milestone goal.
As for team highlights, Smith said he was proud of the way the Predators “strung together some good games on road trips” after losing some players to injuries or trades. Nashville fell just three points short of making the playoffs after finishing fifth in the Central Division of the Western Conference.
“We played well enough to have an opportunity to make the playoffs,” said Smith, who missed the final two weeks of the season while in concussion protocol. “We had so many games at the end of the season that I missed. It stunk that I could only watch our guys battle for a playoff spot. I feel good now, but the season didn’t end on my terms.”
The final two games of the regular season were played in Nashville, including a 5-4 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild on April 13. And a large group of Smith’s family and friends traveled to Tennessee for those games.
“I wish I could have played,” Smith said. “We were able to spend some quality time together. Any time my family gets to come and enjoy this ride with me is pretty special. They’ve been with me for my whole hockey journey.”
A familiar face that Smith faced twice this season was fellow Brainerd High School graduate Josh Archibald, who finished the season with six goals and 12 points in 62 games this season for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We played each at our home rinks,” Smith recalled. “It was cool in warmups to see Josh and acknowledge each other. The (Pittsburgh) parents traveled to Nashville for one of the games, so Josh’s dad, Jim, was in the stands. That was special since he was my high school coach.”
Smith will soon be returning home to spend the summer in the Brainerd area. He plans to help former Warrior teammate Mitch McLain at his Lakes Hockey Academy.
“I like to help out when Mitch needs me,” Smith said of his former Warrior teammate. “It’s cool to connect with the local players at the camp.”
Smith will then leave for the NHL training camp next August. He will be relaxed knowing he is under contract with the Predators. Smith signed a one-year deal with Nashville in February for the 2023-24 season. The contract is a one-way deal, meaning he'll make his full salary whether he's in the NHL or American Hockey League
“I'm under contract for next season .. so everything is good,” Smith said.