D.J. Smith gets to live out his dream as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Smith, from Windsor, signed a four-year deal with the Leafs on Tuesday. His main task will be to run the Leafs’ defence.

The 38-year-old coached the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup win in May. He says it was a difficult decision to leave the team.

“Oshawa was a great place to be, a real family atmosphere,” says Smith. “It was three of the best years of my life. But in saying that, I tell my players that we’re all striving to get to the NHL and I have an opportunity here that you can’t give up.”

He’ll be joining former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock behind the bench. The Leafs named Babcock as head coach on May 20. Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer have also been named assistant coaches.

“I have the opportunity to work under a coach that’s a proven winner and has a record of developing not only players but coaches as well,” says Smith.

Smith says he thinks Babcock will provide a change in culture to help turn the team around.

“I think he’ll provide structure on and off the ice that’s going to help us make a winning product,” says Smith.

Smith worked in the OHL for 12 years, but he says ready to make the move.

“I’m going to work hard to get better every day and I feel I’m ready,” says Smith. “I will do everything I can to help the Toronto Maple Leafs win.”

This isn’t Smith’s first taste of the NHL. He suited up for 45 games, 11 with the Maple Leafs and 34 with the Colorado Avalanche. After head injuries forced him to retire, he started coaching in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires.

“I’ve worked in the OHL for 12 years and gone through a lot of ups and downs,” says Smith. “This is a huge step. My career in the NHL was cut short due to head injuries and I feel I’m getting a second chance. I need to make the best of this opportunity.”

The first step is meeting at the NHL draft, says Smith.

“Those will be our first meetings,” he says.

As for leaving Oshawa, Smith says Generals owner Rocco Tullio has given full support.

“Rocco has been very supportive through the process and given me every opportunity and support to move on,” says Smith. “They are in the development process, not only for players but coaches as well. Like we say to the players ‘Once a General, always a General.’”