Trevor Smith: The Rollercoaster of Pro Hockey

Those at the top use setbacks as a way to become stronger.

Star struck. The same players I had watched on TV were gearing up beside me for day 1. “Pull yourself together. Just play,” I told myself. That first year pro was a rollercoaster to say the least. I left University of New Hampshire after my sophomore year, signing a 2-year deal with the New York Islanders. My first training camp. My worst training camp. After being cut, I reported to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers AHL team, and had a call with my agent discussing training camp with the Islanders. He asked me if I was healthy, and my thoughts on how I did. The conversation felt like I was covering for myself and making excuses. It ended with him telling me the NYI management wasn’t happy with my camp. Down the rollercoaster we go.

By the time I hung up the phone, my confidence was at an all-time low. Mix those emotions with a new detailed system and a coach with a temper. I was so stressed about being in the right spot within the system, and so worried about not making mistakes. It was overwhelming. I can still hear the coach shouting mid-shift, “Smitty, what the F!” echoing across the Tsongas arena.

This happened a lot. In games and in practice. I don’t want to complain about being yelled at. I probably was out of position a lot. That’s not the point. I’m simply highlighting the fragile mental state in the first few weeks of my professional hockey career. I was in and out of the lineup for the first two weeks. After being healthy scratched two games in a row, I was sent to the Utah Grizzlies of the East Coast League. “Go down for the weekend set of games and find your game, see ya next week,” said Coach.

I remember that flight to Utah very well. Repeating over and over in my head “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” I couldn’t grasp the reality of how quickly you can go from one step away from the NHL to thinking if pro hockey is even in your future. My head was filled with ‘what ifs’ and ‘why the fuck.’ Did they bury me? Are they going to trade me? I know they weren’t happy with me. What does that even mean? Did I make the right decision to leave college early? Leave behind two years of scholarship/education? How did I get here?


My girlfriend and future wife flew out to Connecticut to move-in with me for the season, 2 days prior to getting sent down. Meghan stayed in Bridgeport for the week awaiting my recall that never came. While in Utah, I felt bad for myself and I shutdown. I avoided phone calls and texts from family and friends. It felt like I was hitting rock bottom in my new career. Mentally stripped down to zero. Something needed to change. I remember having a long phone call with my dad that sparked my upward trend. The silver lining I needed. That was my turning point. He reminded me that I still get to play hockey every day; and Utah is beautiful. “Just play your game and enjoy life.”

Everyday this new philosophy repeated in my mind: Don’t think the game, play the game. It’s time to gain confidence back and get ready for when I’m back in the AHL. Play my way. I put my head down and worked hard. Real hard. As I slowly gained confidence, I started scoring goals and playing well. I found my game. I had no one criticizing my every move, and I had great teammates in Utah who loved the game, too.

Christmas of 2008 brought my recall to the AHL. I was returning to Bridgeport a different player, and with a new mindset. I knew I had to make the best out of the situation and that’s what I did. This happened for a reason, and now I’m a better player because of it. By focusing solely on my game and less about what coach or management thought of me, I was able to produce points and simply enjoy the game again. In time, the next season, this new mindset led to my first NHL call up with the NY Islanders.

Looking back, my time in Utah was the best thing that happened to my game. The experience was one of the best life lessons that I’ll take with me, even when hockey is over. Instead of dwelling on the negative circumstances of being sent down, along with my confidence, I had to open my eyes (and my mind) to the bigger picture. Just play my game and enjoy it. Over 500 AHL games, 100+ NHL games, Calder Cup Champion, and AHL All-Star is a resume I’m very proud of. And who knows. Maybe my road to get there would have looked a lot different had I never threw on the Grizzlies Jersey.


-Trevor Smith

Former NHL/AHL Center