Trevor Smith was sitting in the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room in March, happy with his NHL opportunity, but with his mind on the club he just left.
Smith had spent most of the year with the Lightning‚??s AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, who were in the midst of putting together the longest winning streak in professional hockey when he was recalled.
But Smith wasn‚??t the only one wondering how his Admiral teammates were doing.
‚??It was the whole organization. Every day guys were asking me about it, guys like (Steven) Stamkos and the other veterans,‚?Ě Smith said. ‚??That‚??s when it hit me.‚?Ě
The significance of what Norfolk was accomplishing caught the attention of not only the Tampa Bay players, but the hockey world as well. The winning streak began Feb. 5 and the Admirals didn‚??t lose until the second game of the postseason. They ended the regular season with 28 straight wins ‚?? 10 more than any other winning streak in pro hockey at any level.
Smith, 27, was the team‚??s second-leading scorer and the anchor of a high-powered offense that outscored its opponents 107-42 during the streak.
The team didn‚??t talk much about the streak while it was ongoing, Smith said. But when he was recalled to Tampa Bay the magnitude of what the Admirals were doing hit him.
‚??When you step away and you really see how many games in a row it was at the time, it was really something,‚?Ě Smith said.
While the streak was a hot topic in Tampa Bay, Smith said it was hardly discussed in Norfolk. Guys had their superstitions, he said, but they kept them quiet in order to keep things lose in the locker room.
It was important to put the streak on the backburner, Smith said.
‚??We made it seem like we weren‚??t on a streak. We didn‚??t talk about it much and made sure it wasn‚??t our main focus,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It was in the back of our minds, obviously, because we were breaking records. But we were just playing hockey and having fun.‚?Ě
The streak officially ended when the Admirals dropped the second game of their first-round playoff matchup against the Manchester Monarchs. Norfolk went on to win the Calder Cup, however, and finished the postseason with another streak by winning its last 10 playoff games.
Oddly enough, the loss to Manchester was somewhat of a relief to the Admirals.
‚??When the regular season ended and we were still on the streak, we knew teams would be gunning for us to break it,‚?Ě Smith said. ‚??It happened in Game 2 of the first round, and it was good that it happened because we came back down and worked to move forward again.‚?Ě
While the winning streak ultimately led the Admirals to the Calder Cup, it also gave each player on the team an individual career boost. Teams want players who are know how to win, and last season, and in the history of professional hockey, no one did it better than the Admirals.
‚??When you have a lot of team success, the individual success will follow,‚?Ě Smith said.
Penguins head coach John Hynes added that while Smith is a special player, what he accomplished with Norfolk vaulted his appeal as a free agent through the roof this summer.
‚??The fact that he was a leader on a team that won the Calder Cup and stayed on task for the majority of the year was definitely attractive,‚?Ě Hynes said. ‚??You want guys who are the right type of people and who are winners, which he is.‚?Ě
After signing with the Penguins in the summer, Smith said he‚??s on a new journey now. Four of the Admirals‚?? 28 record-setting wins came against the Penguins, but Smith remembers those games as more than just a ‚??W‚?? on the schedule.
‚??The Penguins were relentless. They never stopped and their work ethic and battle level was second to none,‚?Ě Smith said. ‚??I want to be a part of that.‚?Ě
But only after he had a chance to reflect with his Norfolk teammates on a season he said will never be forgotten.
‚??After the playoffs, when everything was said and done, we all sat down and kind of patted ourselves on the back,‚?Ě Smith said. ‚??We will all remember that year. It‚??s a special part of your heart.‚?Ě