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Brendan Smith is still a young man, but he’s also a hockey player who senses his biological clock ticking as he tries to win a Stanley Cup.
At 33, Smith would be considered a young professional in most lines of work. But at 33, the defenseman is the oldest member of the Carolina Hurricanes not to have won a Cup.
Imagine being in your early 30s and believing achieving your life’s dream could be limited to a few more opportunities — or “kicks at the can,” as Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour called it. Pro golfers can win major championships in their 40s and early 50s. One quarterback seemingly can play forever, pursuing Super Bowl championships.
Not in hockey, not for most. And not at a position where you block shots and take the body — and could end up fracturing your skull. Time can run out, quickly, inevitably.
“I think you’re always feeling that,” Smith said. “I remember being a young kid and playing with a great (Detroit) Red Wings team and going pretty far and losing in overtime in Game 7 to Chicago, who won it all.
“I remember guys talking about it like, ‘This is our time and we have to make sure we find a way.’ Obviously we didn’t.”
That was in 2013, when Smith was 24. The Red Wings led the second-round series 3-1 before the Blackhawks fought back and then won Game 7 in overtime, when a Brent Seabrook shot deflected off the leg of the Wings’ Niklas Kronwall for the winner.
The Blackhawks advanced and marched on to the Cup. The Red Wings were left deflated and defeated. Smith, a first-round draft pick by Detroit in 2007, was traded to the New York Rangers in 2017.
“I didn’t get another chance to even go to the second round until the Rangers,” Smith said. “So you start feeling through your career that these moments are special.”
Smith said that Wednesday morning, before the Hurricanes and Rangers faced off in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series at PNC Arena — another overtime game — and Smith was part of the winning moment.
It was Smith who got off a shot from the right point that was blocked by Jacob Trouba. Smith’s defensive partner, Ian Cole, gathered in the puck and got off a quick shot from the top of the right circle that glanced off the stick of Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren and past Igor Shesterkin as Carolina won, 2-1.
Cole twice won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Smith, a free-agent signing by the Canes last year, is a step closer to his first, but with a long path still ahead.
Like player, like coach
Brind’Amour is another who waited, and uneasily, as the years passed and a Stanley Cup championship proved to be elusive. He reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997 and lost to Detroit, then came to the Canes in 2000 and was a member of the 2002 team that reached the final before losing to the Red Wings in five games.
Game 5 was in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and the Canes’ locker room was a somber place.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘That might have been it right there,’” Brind’Amour said this week. “I was getting older at that point. Thankfully that wasn’t it. But you never know. It’s not an easy road to win the Stanley Cup.
“The earlier you can sense it’s your best chance, the better. Sometimes, young guys think it’s going to come back every time and that’s an easy mistake to make.”
In 2006, Brind’Amour was the Canes’ captain. He was 35 and there were other 30somethings on the team — defensemen Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican, forwards Kevyn Adams and Doug Weight — who were driven to win the Cup for the first time.
And then they did. The Hurricanes took Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final and there were relieved smiles and hugs all around. The Cup was raised.
Smith is native of Etobicoke, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. He has a younger brother, Reilly, who who made it to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final as a forward with the Vegas Golden Knights, but fell short of winning it all.
“I think when you’re young, you’re naive to it,” Brendan Smith said. “I was naive to it and you start feeling it. I’m aware of my age and where my career is going. You try to take in every moment because it is quick.”