Jeremy Smith picked a pretty good vocation given his location.
The Nashville Predators’ top goaltending prospect is from Dearborn, Michigan, which happens to be just a 45-minute drive away from the main factory for Vaughn Custom Sports, making it really easy for Smith to live out most goalie’s dreams and go directly to the factory to pick out his next set, even going over new options with none other than Mike Vaughn himself.
InGoal caught up with Smith just a few days after this summer’s visit to Vaughn and talked to him about everything from his equipment set up, to the maturation of his game on and off the ice, to his game-day routine, summer training plans, and even his role in the bench-clearing brawl that sparked the Milwaukee Admirals to an unlikely late run into the AHL playoffs.
It started, though, with talk about his equipment and the annual trips to Vaughn:
Smith: “I’m very fortunate and very lucky to be able to live so close to the Vaughn factory and have that opportunity and have the reps and even Mr. Vaughn invite me to the factory. I get to go out there, bring all my Vaughn gear in and we can sit around and look at all my gear that I wore last year and any new developments in their new gear, we are able to pull new gear right off the line and compare to the gear I was wearing and we can make tweaks and changes. And everything is right there, everything is at our disposal, and it’s convenient and we’re able to make everything perfect for me and my game.”
~ Several InGoal readers submitted questions about your equipment and how you like it set up? The guys at Vaughn sent us some other specs you were using before, and we’ll list it for readers, but maybe you can walk us through some of the tweaks:
Pads: VPG 7800 with a stiffened thigh and knee, stiffened scoop, and stiffened inside edge.
Trapper: T 9580 with a pro palm
Blocker: B 7800
Chest and Arm: VP 7600
Pants: P 7800
Smith: “My new gear is probably going to be closer to the V5 but with those small tweaks. Personally I prefer an open leg channel and not as narrow – because the side padding right outside the leg channel, I prefer those go out to the edges, more of a Jimmy Howard style. And I like a stiffer boot break because I like them to sit a little higher and stand tall. With me not being 6-foot-5 I have to be able to cover as much of that as possible. So we stiffened the boot break and the pad in general and stiffen the inside edge so it sits more flush to the ice when I am in my butterfly.
“They released a new V5 blocker that I am going to be using and it’s great, it’s all one piece on the inside where pucks will slide up the paddle and pucks will hit your index finger and they fixed that up with one whole piece – and they cut out for me, because I use such a large knob where I hold my stick, down on the shaft towards the paddle, they were able to cut out where the padding is about a ¼ inch so I can completely slide it.”
“As for what glove I use – to be honest how I recognize pads is based on pro goalies, so I know I was in a Jonathan Quick glove earlier this year and then most recently I switched into a Jimmy Howard. I know what graphic and what color but if you ask me if it’s a 7800 I have no idea. I know what other players use it and what small tweaks I have on mine. And I know I like it.”
~ Let’s talk about this season. Three years ago you were in the ECHL, and you even spent a little time there last season, but really seemed to take off after getting called up late and taking over for an injured Mark Dekanich in Milwaukee. That rise seemed to continue this year, with a 31-19-2 record, 2.17 goals-against average and .922 save percentage behind a team that lost a lot of good players to the parent Predators.
Smith: “I think this year went very well for me, it was positive and there was a lot of positive factors and for my game I was able to work on it and continue to advance and become a better goalie on and off the ice. And the team, it was difficult because it was up and down. We lost a coach and that’s always detrimental to a team, but we were able to overcome that and put together a good second half of the year and make the playoffs. We didn’t want to use [losing players to the NHL] as an excuse because you never want to doubt yourself and we knew even though we lost three important players as a team we can still pull together and that just gives an opportunity for younger guys to step into those roles we lost.”
~ What strides did you make on and off the ice this season:
Smith: “On the ice I think this year, a good way to put it is I was able to mature but also I was able to mentally stay in the game and stay prepared for all situations. A key thing for me is reading the play and not showing my hand too early, and I think this year I did a much better job playing the game instead of reading the game and I was able to put those two things together. Quick reactions – I can’t play on the goal line so I have to be out, I have to be aggressive, but not be overly aggressive and get caught out beyond my parameters where I am scrambling instead of rotating with a butterfly push. If I’m scrambling and diving and throw it back cross crease I have to recover and almost dive again. That’s something that me and my two goalie coaches – Ben Vanderklok and Mitch Korn – tried working on, keeping me more composed and that makes me a more consistent goaltender.”
~ Do you fix those parameters – like say a Mike Smith in Phoenix pretty much never coming outside the blue – and set a barrier on the ice, wherever that may be?
Smith: “No. As a goalie it’s tough to put concrete rules of concrete barriers on yourself because each save is a different save, no two are the same, and they may seem routine and they may seem the same but I really think every save is different and if you put barriers and you say in your mind ‘I can’t go out past this point,’ you are putting a restrictor on yourself and you don’t want to do that. You want to have the ability to make any save and every save and give yourself a chance to make that save. So what we agreed on and what I’m being coached, is even though we know where I want to be, it doesn’t mean that I have to be there. You don’t want to get caught out too much. Like before, when I was younger, I would get caught out well beyond the blue and instead we’d like me to maybe sit back a little bit more and rely on my reactions and my talent to read the play to make the save.”
~ We’ve been told that ability to read the play is something you excel at, but did it get to the point you were ahead of it even?
Smith: “I don’t want to show my hand, or show players or tell players because there are times I almost do know what I think is going to happen or I’m almost certain what’s going to happen but you can’t show your hand, you can’t say ‘oh, I know this guy is going to go high glove,’ because as soon as soon as you put your glove high to cover that spot you think he’s going to shoot, he looks up and changes his mind. It’s almost like you can’t change the past without changing the future, and every action has an opposite reaction as they say, so yes I do read the play well, but if I act too early or act too quickly, it changes the play, and them I’m really a step behind. This year I was able to play the game and not show my hand and rely more on my reactions instead of my ability to read the play. I relied more on my fundamentals and my training and everything that we’ve worked on then I do on such a different variable, something that could change so much.”
~ How do you fix something like that?
Smith: “It’s just dedication every day, coming to the rink and making yourself better every day and having [goalie coaches] Mitch Korn and Ben Vanderklok there helped out 10-fold. And they coach each goalie personally, they are not like a cookie-cutter coach. So if you come to the rink you are able to work on your game every day and you are able to mature between the ears and handle different situations and every scenario, you are able to be more consistent and really refine your game.”
~ Bartek Väggen Andersson asks through Facebook: How do you prepare for a game?
Smith: “It starts the night before with always making sure you have a good meal. That’s where it all starts. You don’t want to eat bad, you don’t want ot have a bad night’s sleep, you always want to prepare the night before, and you want to hydrate. Usually I’ll wake up and go to the rink and mostly I’ll go on for a pre-game skate and after that I go back and cook a pre-game meal, most likely pasta with chicken. Then I take a pre-game nap, wake up, get to the rink about two and a half, three hours before a game, and then I go through my pre-game routine, which includes taping my stick, if my body needs treatment I get treatment, and then I’ll jump on the bike for a good 15 minutes. I then roll my legs out and I’ll do a stretch routine with a dynamic warm up.”
~ How did you get started using foam rollers?
Smith: “It really came into play my first year in [ECHL] Cincinnati. My groin started to get really tight on me so what I did was I took a softball and I started rolling with a softball and even though that’s really hard, I was really able to penetrate deep into my muscles and work out that lactic acid that had built up in my legs after a hard work out. Then it slowly started to develop to where now I have a travel roller that goes in my bag with three different hardness balls. I work on my back, my legs, my hips, any spot I need to massage or really get into those deep pressure points, I’m able to reach that.”
~ We got a couple of questions from Jim Martin and Juan Francisco Barone through Facebook asking what you said to the Rockford forward that started the bench clearing brawl late in the season.
Smith: “(Laughs) I’d prefer to talk about the game. Fights happen in hockey and that happened and what I really like was how we came together as a team and how we responded after that fight and how we stuck up for each other. And we really did. After that fight, we had a good run afterwards, some crazy number that allowed us to make it into the playoffs. We went from 12th to fifth in the final games and you know what, I think that may have been one of the turning points was that big brawl. But that happens and it may be frowned upon but it’s part of the game and I’m glad it brought us together as a team.”
~ That’s fair, but your play down the stretch was a big part of that as you were named AHL Goalie of the Week for leading Milwaukee into the playoffs in the final week of the season. Is a chance to be that guy part of what attracts you to the position?
Smith: “Yeah, I think every goalie loves that, where you are the hero. Nobody likes to lose, but I think as a goalie you kind of gotta maybe not love it, but certainly you have to accept it. To me it’s more just staying in the game, keeping my mind in the game, and it doesn’t matter what happens, it doesn’t matter really the score, the time of the game, it’s just you versus the other team and I think it’s just my competitive nature loves being a goalie because I love competing and I love stopping the puck and I love making saves and I love frustrating the other team and that’s the best part.”
~ You’ve mentioned focus throughout a game a couple times. It’s not easy, you can’t tense up for 60 minutes. How do you do it?
Smith: “You’ll drive yourself crazy if you think about it throughout the entire game, and especially in between periods and whatnot. I think for me the big jump from junior to pro would be coming in after the intermission because you had that lull when you are in the locker room where guys may be talking about other things that are not related to you and every position. For me I was able to focus in and get my mind back into the game by replaying and learning about things that happened the previous period. I was able to think about this happened for this reason, or that happened here, and just see it in my mind and kind of coach myself, and then before I know it, it’s time to get ready and go back out on the ice. It’s not like I turn my brain off, or I’m like totally zoned in like I got to do this, it’s more like relaxing, thinking about it and then it’s time to focus back in and be consistent and be quick and crisp. Visualizing would be a good word, just replaying what happened in your mind and thinking like ‘ok this happened for this reason’ and not overly thinking about it, not driving yourself crazy, but just thinking about plays that happened, or how I played a puck, or ask my defenseman ‘did you want that puck over’ or ‘hey was that a good pass?’ Just thinking about things that happened, and communicating with your team and keeping your mind in there without being overly crazy or just not thinking about it at all, and then it’s like ‘whoa, I gotta get back into it,’ and you’re having to catch up.”
~ John Stewart sent an email to email@example.com asking what your summer routine looks like.
Smith: “I’m originally from Detroit but in the summer I actually live in Niagara Falls with my old junior billets and they are like a second family to me. They welcome me into their home and I love them and am very lucky and very fortunate to be so close to them. So I live with them and I work with the Niagara Ice Dogs trainer, Pete Dobbin, with five or six other guys, including [Detroit Red Wings prospect] Thomas McCollum. Me an him are training partners, so we work out together, and every weekday at 8 a.m. we are there and we do goalie specific workouts. There may be eight or nine guys there but my name will be written on the wall with 20 to 30 things on a list that are all specific to me and my weaknesses and what I need to work on.
“It usually takes an hour or two depending on the day, and then a couple days a week I would do yoga as well. I really enjoyed yoga. As a goalie I think it’s more off ice and strength conditioning and it’s a good workout, and as a goalie flexibility is a big issue. You look at Jonathan Quick and he’s able to cover so much of the lower part of the net because he’s so flexible and he’s able to reach and make those saves and you see how beneficial it is for him. And on the ice I work with Ben Vanderklok – he is primarily in Niagara and works with Nashville as well – and he puts on goalie clinics there so in the summer after I work out or after I go to yoga, usually I’ll zip over to his camps and help out and give speeches to the kids and try to help out and give back to the community.
“I just love talking about goaltending and whether I’m out there having fun with the kids or they come up to me with a serious question, if I’m at their disposal I can learn from them too. Goalies learn from goalies and every time I’m there if I can learn a few things it’s beneficial to me, and if they learn something it’s worth it to me as well. And with Ben being there I am able to get on the ice with him one-on-one, or with me and [Phoenix Coyotes prospect] Mark Visentin, who works out with him too. It’s a really good set up. I really don’t play a lot of shinny. Maybe later on when they start having skates in august I’ll start doing that, but throughout the summer I really don’t play a lot of shinny. It’s more positioning and working on small details in my game.”