Ryan Smith (left) of the University of Maine carries the puck from behind the net as teammate J.D. Greenway looks on during a 2019-2020 game in Orono. Smith has signed to play for the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL. (Peter Buehner Photo)

Ryan Smith said ever since he was a child, his dream was to play professional hockey.

The former University of Maine left winger will realize that dream this season after he signed a one-year contract recently with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL, an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils.

“It’s exciting. This is a step in the right direction,” said Smith, who posted four goals and six assists in 34 games for the Black Bears last season.

“I really like the coach, Alex Loh. I’m excited to get started,” Smith said.

The Snellville, Georgia, native concluded his UMaine career with 18 goals and 17 assists in 126 games. He was an effective penalty killer and defensive player.

“He got better every year at Maine,” UMaine head coach and former Devils assistant Red Gendron said. “That’s the first thing that has to be noted. He didn’t put up big offensive numbers but he was a big part of our success. He was the captain of the penalty-killers. He was amazing on the penalty kill.”

Gendron added that with the development of Smith’s leadership skills, he continues to make him self marketable at the next level.

“If he keeps getting better every day, he may wake up in the NHL some day,” Gendron said. “There are a lot of players who had outstanding NHL careers because they could check.”

The 6-foot, 210-pound Smith said he has gotten stronger during his career and that he has been working on the offensive aspect of his game.

“I have to be more poised with the puck and more decisive with it. I need to shoot the puck more. I’ve always been a good skater but I’ve got to get to the net more often,” he said.