World Championship Gold Validation For Mike Smith
A strong finish to the 2014-15 NHL season did not distract from what had been a difficult campaign for Arizona Coyote’s starter Mike Smith. But the 33-year old feels his starring role at the recent World Championships in Prague helps prove he’s still one of the games best puck stoppers.
“It reiterates that I’m a pretty good goalie,” Smith told the Coyotes’ official website. “It’s been a tough year mentally on me. Physically, I got a good handle on that, but I think mentally, going into the summer knowing that I’ve played some pretty good hockey now for three months or so, I think it’s important.”
Smith started eight of Team Canada’s 10 games at the World Championships, giving up just one goal in the three medal round games as Canada secured their first gold medal at the tournament since 2007.
“We had our minds set that we were going to win that game and we did it in a fashion that was pretty silly when you look back on it now,” Smith said. “To go against the players we did and to come out of that game dominating like we did, I think it just shows what kind of character and leadership and the quality players that were on that team… I’m just thrilled that I had the opportunity to go there and be invited, and I’m honoured to be able to win another gold medal for Canada.”
The Kingston, ON native posted a .930 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average through eight appearances, shutting out Belarus and hosts the Czech Republic, with partner Martin Jones also closing the door on Germany in the group phase.
Smith’s performances in Prague were a far cry from his struggles in the NHL this year, where his numbers fell to a middling .904 save percentage and 3.16 goals-against average as the Coyotes finished 29th overall.
After such a difficult season, Smith may look at Western Conference rival Pekka Rinne for inspiration.
The giant Finn rebounded from an injury damaged 2013-14 season to back stop Finland to the silver medal at last year’s World Championships. The 32-year old used that success as something of a springboard in to this season, helping Nashville climb back in to the play-offs and earning himself a Vezina Trophy nomination.
A similar bounce back effort from Smith would significantly boost the Coyotes chances of success, with young stars Max Domi and Brendan Perlini on the horizon, an elite blue liner in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the 3rd overall pick at this summers draft, and Smith hopes having that winning feeling back will go a long way.
“I put a mediocre season to rest,” Smith said. “It was nice to finish a not very good season with a very good ending to the season and to go into the summer feeling good about my game again and winning. It feels good to win.”
Despite their disappointing effort, there seems to be much to be positive about for the Coyotes on the ice – though Smith must also contend with a future sans influential goaltending coach Sean Burke; who looks set to leave the organisation this summer – a departure Smith described as ‘bittersweet’ when Burke was granted permission to talk to other clubs in March.
Former Philadelphia Flyers and Coyotes netminder Burke helped Smith put up career best numbers during his first season with Arizona, and has been a major influence on Smith’s development during their time working together.
How the loss of Burke might affect Smith may depend on who Arizona bring in as a replacement, but his success in Prague undoubtedly provides a massive confidence boost for the one time Subury Wolves stopper heading in to the summer.