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Off the Ice: Mike Smith is making me a believer

Eating your own words is a tricky business.

How do you do it while still maintaining an air of humor
or keeping those who were correct from sending a mocking,
“I told you so” your way? I’m not sure if it’s possible,
but I owe it to the man to give it a try, so here it goes.

Mike Smith, I was wrong about you.

There, I said it and I sure do feel better. When the
Phoenix Coyotes signed Mike Smith, I was incredibly
disappointed. I couldn’t believe we were losing a (top?)
netminder in Ilya Bryzgalov and replacing him with a guy
who had spent part of the most recent season in the AHL
and his NHL time as a backup, albeit a good one. I pushed
for guys like Tomas Vokoun, Antti Nittymaki or Evgeni
Nabokov to come to Phoenix via free agency or trade, but
not someone like Smith. I’m usually a believer in Coyotes
head coach Dave Tippett, but I thought he went after the
wrong player this time.

Tip, I was wrong. You coached Smith in Dallas and knew
what he was capable of: leading a defensive-minded team
while seeing a lot of shots heading his way.

I do grant myself this, however. Smith took some time to
adjust to the Coyotes style of play and has given up a few
questionable goals, but his overall performance has been
beyond my wildest expectations. Smith is currently fourth
in the NHL with a save percentage of .927 and has already
faced 300 shots. He may have already let 22 goals slip by
him, but saving every shot in the NHL is impossible. I’m
even willing to give a few of those back considering how
many times I’ve seen his name popping up on highlight
reels.

One thing I didn’t expect from Smith was his aggressive
play. He protects his crease and himself as any goalie
does, but he almost becomes a sixth skater on offense, at
times. His ability to play the puck is impressive and
finally allows the Coyotes to capitalize on their speed up
top when the play is coming out of the back. Yes, he’s
goofed a few times and gotten drilled behind the goal,
but, like his goals given up, I will take the positive
over the negative.

I don’t want to jinx anything as it is still very early in
the hockey season, but I’m edging toward the Smith
bandwagon. The guy came in, took on a difficult role with
big Russian shoes to fill and has shown that he can hold
his own and excel, not to mention he proved me wrong. You
may not see me holding an “In Smith We Trust” sign at a
game anytime soon, but I was made a believer.

Mr. Smith, I tip my hat to you.