Zack Smith’s Ottawa Senators fell just one goal short of playing in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Sens were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals after the defending Cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored in double overtime of Game 7.
“It’s disheartening to go that far and lose for sure, but at the same time it’s something to build off for next year. It’s definitely valuable experience,” Smith said.
It was the closest Maple Creek’s Smith had come to the Stanley Cup finals in his NHL career. Seeing Pittsburgh score the overtime winner and advance to the finals against Nashville was tough, he said.
“I was just stunned. I remember being in that game and thinking it was probably the most tired I’ve ever been playing hockey.
“You don’t ever think about not advancing or not being the team to score that goal in overtime so when it happens it’s basically a complete shock,” Smith said.
Smith says a lot of people at the start of the season doubted the Senators. Being able to prove them wrong was a good feeling, he added.
“We always had a bit of quiet confidence in the room,” he said. “It took a while for it to sink in that we were done, but there’s lots to look forward to for next year.”
Smith says he has watched the finals so far, but knowing his team could be battling the Predators for Lord Stanley instead makes it feel a bit strange.
“It’s tough watching [when you’re out], especially last year when we didn’t make the playoffs, it just seems like it goes forever … it’s not as easy as I thought it would be because it should be us playing in that game, but that’s the way it goes.”
The Pens and Predators are currently tied at two games apiece in the finals.
“For your own sake and pride you kind of hope the team that beat you is the one who wins.”
During the seven-game series against the Penguins, Smith scored one goal. Through his 19 playoff games, he recorded five assists and six points, good for ninth on his team.
This year was full of amazing moments, Smith said.
The team’s goaltender Craig Anderson’s wife was going through cancer treatment throughout the entirety of the season. Anderson took a few leaves of absence from the team to spend time with his wife and would periodically return to help the team move towards its goal.
Smith says his other teammate Clarke MacArthur’s comeback this year was “one of the coolest things he’s seen in hockey.”
MacArthur struggled with injuries, rarely playing over the last two season. He made a triumphant return in this year’s playoffs, scoring an overtime winner against the Boston Bruins in Round 1.
“There were a lot of inspirational events this year that made up closer and defined our personality.”
Smith says this Ottawa Senators team was one of the closest teams he’s ever played on during his career.
A few players’ contract will be expiring with the Senators and with this year’s Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft there will be some changes to the roster.
Nonetheless, Smith says the team will come back and will look to improve on its finish to this season.
During the regular season, Smith set a career high in assists, recording 16 in the 72 games he played. He added 16 goals, the second highest total in his career.
Earlier in the season, Smith signed a four-year $3.25 million contract extension with the Senators.
He’ll return to Maple Creek this summer for the eighth annual Zack Smith Charity Golf Tournament at the Maple Creek Golf Course. Keep an eye out for the full story on the July 15 event.