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Beefing up his resumé: Canada's Smith no ordinary Joe

Veteran goalie boosts chances for Olympic invitation

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Mike Smith has gone from a goaltender no NHL team wanted to a candidate for Canada's next Olympic team.

The 31-year-old from Kingston, Ont., is currently clearing a hurdle to making it to the Sochi Games -- a lack of international hockey experience.

Smith was Canada's starter in the key games of the preliminary round at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. The Phoenix Coyotes goalie posted a 33-save shutout against the Swedes, who the Canadians will face again in Thursday's quarter-final.

He also made 24 saves in a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic. In his world championship debut, Smith had 26 saves in regulation and six of eight in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Swiss.

"You dream to play for your country whether it's in the world championships or the Olympics or whatever the tournament is," Smith said. "It's a great opportunity to showcase what I can do over here on the international stage and hopefully I can turn some heads."

Unlike Montreal's Carey Price, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury or Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, Smith wasn't anointed an NHL starter out of junior.

Drafted 161st overall by the Dallas Stars, Smith's first half-dozen years as a pro were spent in the minors, including a stint in the ECHL, and then backing up Marty Turco in Dallas for a season and a half.

The Stars traded him in 2007 to Tampa Bay, where despite his winning records, Smith never got the majority of starts.

He was the odd man out when the Lightning acquired Dwayne Roloson during the 2010-11 season. Smith was placed on waivers and sent to the minors. At 28, his career was going in the wrong direction.

But Dave Tippett, Smith's former coach in Dallas, needed a goaltender in Phoenix when the Coyotes and Ilya Bryzgalov couldn't agree on a contract extension. Smith signed a two-year, $4-million contract with the Coyotes in the summer of 2011.

"I knew his ability and how strong he was as an athlete," said Tippett, an assistant coach for Canada at the worlds. "I just looked at him as a player that needed an opportunity.

"We brought him in and gave him that No. 1 role right off the bat. He accepted the role and ran with it. From both sides, it was a good fit. He trusts his surroundings and probably for the first time in his career, he's earned the trust from the team back."

Smith's record in 2011-12 was 38-18-10 with a goals-against average of 2.21 and a save percentage of .930. He posted three shutouts in 16 playoff games, as well as a GAA of 1.99 and a save percentage of .944.

"I played a year in the East Coast League, four years in the minors and found my way to the NHL," Smith said. "It was an endurance race for me. Not a sprint.

"I've learned to play well when I don't feel my best and I think that's the biggest part about being a No. 1 goalie. You can't feel good every night and no on does. No one in the NHL will ever tell you they feel great every single night."

Smith's record was 15-12-5 record and his GAA was 2.58. The Coyotes finished four points out of a playoff spot.

Tippett felt it was necessary for Smith to accept Canada's invitation to the world championship.

"This is one of those things that if he wants to have a chance to play for the Canadian Olympic team, these are experiences he shouldn't give up," the Coyotes coach said. "

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2013 D6

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