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Konnor Smith has been waiting a long time for Thursday’s match to arrive.

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With that, second-year Peterborough defender Petes finally returned home to Windsor to take on a Spitfires side he grew up watching at the WFCU Centre.

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“It’s a great feeling to play in my hometown,” the 18-year-old Smith said. “I’ve been waiting since last year. I counted the days.

As a rookie last season with the Petes, Smith was never able to play at home because Western Conference champion Spitfires did not face any Eastern Conference teams during the regular season in league efforts to limit exposure to COVID-19.

“I know my whole family is looking forward to it,” said Smith, who expected some 300 friends and family to attend. “Last year there was nothing and I circled that as soon as I saw the schedule.”

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That the minor midget product of the Windsor Jr. Spitfires arrived is a testament to the perseverance of a player selected with the 175th overall pick in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Draft, with the Petes nabbing him at the ninth round.

“I wanted to go higher, but every kid wants to go higher,” Smith said. “First or second round, I still wouldn’t have been satisfied.”

Add to that the fact that his 2020-21 season was wiped out by the pandemic, but he still showed up to camp with the Petes last season ready to leave his mark.

“I arrived at the rink with no back-up plans,” Smith said. “I wanted to be part of the team.

He did exactly that, but what has impressed the Petes is the commitment Smith has made since the day he was drafted in 2020 in training camp over a year ago. late.

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“Unfortunately the season (2020-21) hasn’t started and we haven’t even had the chance to have a development camp to see where he fits in,” Petes general manager Michael said. Okay. “But he was very proactive and we had a lot of communication that year trying to do everything we could on and off the ice.

“Konnor was very receptive to this and communicated quite often and regularly with our coaches for more information and knowledge. He went down to Nashville to stay with a family friend (when Ontario was closed) and s “He continued to work hard and improve. Coming to camp last year, we didn’t know much about what everyone else could do. Being a later pick, he came in and showed early that he deserved an opportunity.

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At six-foot-six and 200 pounds, Smith is hard to miss on the ice and he’s only just starting to grow in that frame.

“I’m still growing in my body,” Smith said. “I still haven’t reached my strength as a man. I need to fill.

“Being a bigger guy, I knew I had to play this unpleasant role. I pushed to be a physical and tough defender. It’s a fast league, the guys are skilled and your timing has to be precise. You have to learn speed and angle at speed. I think I adapted to that pretty quickly.

He also caught the attention of NHL Central Scouting, which placed him on its preliminary watch list as a prospect for the 2023 Draft.

“For someone his size, he moves quite well,” Oke said. “He can be physical and he’s not afraid to go around the corner. It’s a very nice piece.

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Smith makes no secret of the fact that he would like to be an NHL defenseman one day, but he also knows it’s a long process with a lot of hard work.

“My main goal is to play in the NHL and have a career,” Smith said. “It’s good (to be in the standings), it feels good, but in the end it doesn’t matter in the long term. You know you’re doing something right, but there’s always room for improvement.

Oke said it’s Smith’s attitude of never being satisfied that separates him from other players.

“He’s a good teammate and a good ambassador,” Oke said. “For the NHL Draft, I know he has aspirations. Opposition players know when he’s on the ice and I think he’s gotten a lot of attention.

“When scouts come to the rink, he’s one of the players they focus on and I think the sky’s the limit for him. If you look at him for his professional potential, he has this ability to be physical and the way he moves on the ice is a nice combination, but I can’t express how hard he works on and off the ice. .

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