Selected in the seventh round of the 2011 OHL Entry Draft, Jacob Smith was as surprised as anyone when news came, very quickly, that he had cracked the lineup of the Kingston Frontenacs on his very first shot.
Not to suggest that he wasn't, in equal parts, proud and excited about his accomplishment. But Smith understood the reality of life in junior hockey. That is to say, far more 7th rounders are returned for further seasoning that those who stay with the big club.
Nine months later, the long-time Valley East resident has a much clearer idea of what lies ahead, taking with him the experience of his rookie campaign of OHL hockey.
"I knew it was going to be tough going in, at 150 (pounds) and being a seventh rounder" Smith said, recently taking in the Skater's Edge 3 on 3 Challenge between workout sessions.
"I wanted to go in and surprise people who might have underestimated me," he said. "I thought the first half of the season was a little slow, but I thought I turned it around in the second half, scoring and getting a few points."
Yes, the totals (a goal and six assists in 58 games) were modest. Yet those in the know within the Kingston hockey organization repeated a similar message, over and over, in what was clearly a rebuilding year for the team which finished dead last in the Eastern Conference.
In the land of the Frontenacs, 2011-2012 was all about allowing the kids to gain some valuable experience. Trade deadline deals were made with an eye on stocking the team for a run three to four years down the road.
Winners just 19 times in a 68 game regular season schedule, the Kingston juniors provided the OHL christening for rookie coach Todd Gill. Yet by all accounts, he passed with flying colours.
"He (coach Gill) needed to keep things loose in the dressing room," said Smith. "It's important to always stay positive, to keep it positive in the room."
"It's all about the upcoming years," Smith added. "It was a rebuilding year and we all knew that." Still, there were highlights, to be sure.
In mid-January, the Frontenacs stunned the powerful London Knights with a 4-1 win right at the John Labatt Centre. Yes, "those" London Knights, now just one game away from securing an OHL championship.
"London was like an NHL atmosphere, there were almost ten thousand people there," said Smith. "It was overwhelming." Smith picked up an assist on the game-winning goal that night, providing some support for Frontenacs' netminder Igor Bobkov, who turned aside 59 of 60 shots in pulling off the upset.
But year one is now behind Smith. Time to move on, to raise the bar on a team that will likely still be tagged with a "rebuilding" theme for at least one more year.
A year in which the northern Ontario native fully intends to play a much bigger role. "I need to get stronger," Smith asserted. "Last year, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (in the weight room) were key days for me, because I wanted to get bigger, I wanted to compete."
"I'm working out now with Troy Thompson and (former Sudbury Wolves defenseman) Ryan Crouch," Smith stated. "I'm working hard - it's going to be a great summer."
The element of surprise is much more challenging the second time around.