GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Once he started training this summer, Brendan Smith never had any doubts that he would make it back to the Rangers this season. But the day he got the news that the Rangers were sending him down to Hartford? No, he wasn’t so confident then.
“That period when I was going through that whole waiver [process], I definitely had a lot of doubts,’’ Smith said of clearing waivers and then being demoted to Hartford last February. “I doubted myself. I thought maybe at times I couldn’t do it anymore.’’
Things got worse a month later when the defenseman broke his hand fighting Hartford teammate Vinni Lettieri in practice, ending Smith's season.
What kept him going, Smith said, was the support from his family. His wife, Samantha, his parents, Lester and Deirdre, and his brothers, Rory and Reilly, were in his corner the whole time. He had lots of support from friends, coaches, trainers and others, too, but his family was there every day. Especially Samantha.
“She was a big force that was there for me,’’ he said. “And she just kind of reiterated, ‘You’ve done this for a very long time; don’t let half a season get in the way of that.’’’
Smith remembers doing a lot of thinking on his drive to Hartford.
“The moment — don’t even like thinking about it, but the moment I was going to Hartford, I had a moment where I was going there to make sure that I will be in the best shape and work as hard as I can,’’ he recalled. “I just remember that drive just being like, ‘Well, you have to prove this to everybody; prove it to yourself, more than anybody.’ And I just got down to business.’’
Step one in Smith’s plan for redemption was to get in better shape than he was in a year ago. Once he did that, then step two was to play well in training camp and make the team. With both of those goals accomplished, Smith said he isn’t about to rest on his laurels now.
“There’s a first game, and then you want to keep climbing, and keep getting better,’’ he said. “Nothing’s been proven yet. And just because I’m part of the roster, well that’s great, but I know where I’ve been . . . how many games I’ve played, and how long I’ve been in the league. I know I’ve played well in the playoffs; I know I’ve been a good contributor. So, I want to get back to that.’’
Coach David Quinn, who has known Smith since he recruited him [unsuccessfully] to go to Boston University when Quinn was an assistant coach there, is excited about the camp Smith had and the prospect that he can be the player he was when the Rangers acquired him in 2016.
“We knew the work he put in this summer, and the shape he came in,’’ Quinn said of Smith. “And our feeling was that if we could get him back to being the player he was before last year, with [defense partner Kevin Shattenkirk] getting healthy and being the player he was, those are two pretty good free-agent acquisitions over the summer.’’
Notes & quotes: The Rangers announced Tuesday they will recognize the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Stanley Cup at a special tribute night Friday, Feb. 8, when the Blueshirts host the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers will recognize the anniversary several times during the season, with details to follow about additional celebration . . . Lias Andersson, who was assigned to AHL Hartford on Friday, was named Monday the Lars Erik Sjoberg Award winner, as the top rookie in training camp. Andersson had two goals in the first preseason game, a 4-3 overtime win over the Devils.