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U.S. men's hockey team member carrying Gaston County connection to the ice

Nathan Smith's mother and sister live just outside of Charlotte.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — It really is a small world after all. 

The U.S. men's hockey team will take to the ice on Thursday, Feb. 10, in Beijing to face China in a preliminary game. 

But as the excitement mounts across the globe, one player will have some extra cheers coming his way from Gaston County. 

Nathan Smith was born and raised in Florida and currently plays hockey for Minnesota State University, Mankato.  His mother, Kelly Smith, and sister, Haley Smith, live in Gaston County and will be cheering him on from North Carolina. 

"We're still trying to wrap it around our brains about what's going on," Kelly Smith told WCNC Charlotte on Sunday. "We're super excited for him and proud of him. It's a great accomplishment and we're excited to get the games started. Day, night, it doesn't matter what time it is." 

It is an accomplishment the family can't help but to share a smile about. While talking about her brother, Haley Smith cracked a grin saying how surreal it was to see stories about her brother preparing for the Olympics.

"It definitely hasn't set in yet," she said. 

Growing up in Florida, the Smith children took advantage of the weather by taking up roller hockey. The love grew over time, leading him to be part of the Minnesota State Mavericks. He is a junior with the team and last appeared on the collegiate ice near the end of Jan. during a 5-3 victory against Arizona State.

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He was drafted in the third round by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2018 NHL Draft and holds different accolades for his play on the ice.

Kelly and Haley both added they'll have watch parties with the family in the Tarheel State to root on their favorite player.

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