Former Steinbach Piston and University of North Dakota forward Cole Smith has signed a free agent deal with the Nashville Predators.
Smith spent two seasons with the Pistons from 2014-16, scoring 38 goals and 84 points in 92 games played. He put up almost a point a game in the playoffs with 13 goals and 26 points in 27 career postseason appearances, and was named the Pistons Playoff MVP in 2016.
“Cole set the benchmark for what work ethic should and actually look like in our program,“ Pistons Head Coach/General Manager Paul Dyck said of Smith. “His willingness to make sacrifices and his level of commitment to the game have led to this opportunity. “
“With the way things all ended in such a weird and hard way, it was really nice to have something to be happy and excited about,” Smith said from back home in Minnesota. “Throughout the year my goal was to just do whatever I could to help our team win and when it was over, that’s when I would look at the next step in my career. This is a dream come true for me and I’m excited for the next opportunity to future my career.”
The Brainerd, Minnesota native had career-highs during his senior year with the Fighting Hawks before the season was cancelled, putting up 11 goals and 18 points in 34 games played on the #1 ranked team in college hockey. Smith was also nominated for the NCHC’s 2019-20 Defensive Forward of the Year.
“For our team this year we had such a clear focus on what we wanted and what it was going to take to get there,” he explained. “One of the biggest things that gave us success is how close we were as a group. We didn’t care what was happening outside of us and we just cared about what we were doing within ourselves. We really did have a family in that locker room.
In 137 games with the Fighting Hawks, he put up a total of 24 goals and 27 assists for 51 points and was a career +21 over that span. Smith is a three-time member of the NCHC Academic All-Conference Team and was named an NCHC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete in 2018-19 during his junior year.
Smith is the first former Piston in franchise history to have signed an entry level contract with a team in the NHL after spending his last year of junior in Steinbach. He joins a Predators organization that were Stanley Cup finalists in 2017 and won the President’s Trophy in 2018.
“His journey is one of my favorite stories, as he came in as a 19-year-old rookie from Minnesota and worked his tail off for two years with a dream of playing at UND and made it happen,“ Dyck recalled. “I am thrilled to see him earn this opportunity. If anyone is deserving of it, Cole is.”
“(The Pistons) were the group that welcomed me in to play junior and was a place where I was able to further my game,” Smith said of his time in the Automobile City. “Paul is such a genuine human and an outstanding hockey coach and I just learned so much about the game from him.
“With the Pistons as a whole they helped provide me with opportunities to further my career,” he continued. “But not only that, they gave me some of my best friends and also taught me life lessons I carry with me today.”