From Florida to Beijing: Nathan Smith Thrilled to be a Part of Team USA Hockey in the Olympics

When the NHL decided to pull their players from the Olympic Games, a rare opportunity was created for the top college players to represent the USA at the highest level.

Winter Olympics Nathan Smith
Photo: Minnesota State Athletics Matt Dewkett

The story of Nathan Smith is what Olympic dreams are made of. Born in Florida, Smith spent his childhood playing roller hockey in the Tampa Bay area. At age eleven, he took his talents to the ice and before long had made a name for himself as a top scorer in the area's youth ice hockey league. In 2016, Smith helped his high school team win the USA Hockey national title – the first Florida team to ever claim the championship.

Now, he's nearly 1600 miles north of his hometown and playing his third season with the top ranked Minnesota State University Mavericks. "I love to come to the rink. I mean the weather makes it hard to get up, but other than that, this is just such a great place to be," Smith told Southern Living. "I definitely miss the beach. It's kind of a nice way to relax and reset the mind. That's usually what I like to do when I go home for Christmas break."

When Smith returned to Minnesota following this Christmas break, he got a phone call inviting him to join Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. "I really didn't know what to say to him actually, I was pretty speechless. I was just trying to wrap my head around it," said Smith. The NHL had just announced that it was pulling out of the Games due to COVID-19 challenges, creating the opportunity for the country's top college players to earn a spot. As a leading scorer in the NCAA's Division I and a frontrunner for this year's Hobey Baker Memorial Award, Smith's credentials spoke for themselves. But the college star remained humble. "I'm extremely honored. This is a once in a lifetime kind of thing and a dream come true."

That dream may have become a reality sooner than he anticipated, but Smith knew it took a lot of hard work to make it happen. "I think the biggest thing for me was just staying in the gym four to five days a week and just trusting the process. You have to work every day to achieve your goals." Smith said he hoped his unusual journey from Florida to Beijing inspires other hockey hopefuls in the South. "I just want to set the example for the younger kids and the younger generations coming up from Florida. I want them to know that it is possible, you just got to put the work in," Smith said. "If anybody ever has questions, I'd love to just talk to them or if they need advice on certain paths that they're looking to do, I would love to be that person that they can look up to."

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Smith admitted the adrenaline rush he gets on the ice is pretty addicting. But when asked what he loves most about the sport, he said it's something else. "I think if you find the right group for you and the right place for you, I think the biggest thing is the teammates and the memories and the friendships that you build throughout the sport," stated Smith. "I've gained so many friends and friendships that will last a lifetime. That's really what I love most about hockey."

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