Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Monday Nov. 4, 2013 11:26 ET

Mike Smith’s hot start has Team Canada’s attention

Phoenix Coyotes goalie in the mix for Olympic team

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Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes has his eye on the Canadian Olympic team and has impressed Team Canada's management. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Mike Smith dined out on the Olympic spirit four years ago and he would like nothing more than to return for a second helping.

Only this time, the current Phoenix Coyotes goaltender would like to be a participant as a member of the Canadian men’s hockey team. 

Four years ago in Vancouver and Whistler, Smith was there to cheer on his then girlfriend, now wife, Canadian alpine skier Brigitte Acton. 

Acton, a two-time Canadian Olympian, finished a respectable 17th in the women’s slalom, retired that summer and married Smith in September 2010. 

“It was an unbelievable experience,” the 31-year-old Smith said of his time at the 2010 Olympics. 

“Obviously, I would have liked to have been there playing for my country. But it was quite an experience to watch her and share the experience of performing in Canada, our home country.

“It was unbelievable to watch her do something she loves to do. I love to play hockey as much as she loves to ski. I couldn’t have been more proud of her.”

No hard feelings

While some of his non-Olympic teammates rested during the break in warmer climates, Smith would have liked to stay longer at the Vancouver Games because it was a blast. But he had to rejoin the Tampa Bay Lightning to prepare for the stretch drive of the regular season.

A few months later, the Lightning hired as its general manager Canadian Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman. But the following season under Yzerman didn't go well for Smith. At one point, Yzerman demoted Smith to the AHL. He was placed on waivers and the other 29 teams passed on him.

The Lightning recalled him and he played well in a few outings behind starter Dwayne Roloson in Tampa Bay’s unexpected postseason run to the East final. But Smith was cut loose in the summer. 

Still, he doesn’t conceal any ill feelings toward Yzerman, who saw fit to invite Smith to the Canadian Olympic orientation camp in Calgary in late August.

“It’s huge to be invited to a camp like that,” Smith said. “It gives you chills.

“Everything happens for a reason. It just didn’t work out in Tampa for whatever reason. I enjoyed my time there. I’m still very good friends with a lot of my Tampa teammates.”

Yzerman and Smith have never sat down to discuss what transpired in Tampa Bay, but Smith doesn’t feel the need to.

“I have the utmost respect for Steve Yzerman,” Smith said. “There was no discussion needed.

"The fresh start in Phoenix was just what I needed.”

Dallas gave Smith first NHL break

Nothing has come easy for the athletic 6-foot-3, 215-pound Smith, who grew up in Kingston, Ont. The Dallas Stars drafted him in the fifth round (161st overall) in 2001, but after two solid seasons of junior with the Sudbury Wolves he began his pro career on the bottom rung in the ECHL.

He worked his way up to Dallas and had a good mentor there in veteran Marty Turco. In fact, it was because of Turco that Smith met Acton. She’s from Turco’s hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and when Smith was there for Turco’s charity golf tournament, Smith met Acton.

Following stints in Dallas and Tampa Bay, Smith landed on the Coyotes’ doorstep. It was his 2011-12 season and playoffs that pushed him to another level. 

If there is one area that gives Smith an edge to snatch one of the three Canadian Olympian goalie spots, it has been his play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, in which he has a sparkling .945 save percentage.

Smith credits Phoenix goalie coach Sean Burke, a former Canadian Olympian, for his continued improvement.

“He’s meant everything to my career,” said Smith, who made headlines this fall when he scored a goal in a game earlier this season. 

“He’s a guy who has been through everything in his career. He’s a guy who played a similar style to mine. We’re about the same size.

“I believe I was a good goalie before I got to Phoenix and [Burke] has fine tuned me to make better and he has found a way to keep me composed. There are a ton of good goalies in this league, it’s just a matter of finding that next level, finding a way to win when you’re not at your best.”

Canadian Olympic goalies

Each week we rank the top contenders for the three goalkeeper spots on the Canadian Olympic team based on their play to date.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) – He became the first goalie to reach 10 victories this season, but he’s still a long shot to lasso a roster spot because his last four postseasons were poor.

2. Mike Smith (Phoenix) – He made a season-high 48 saves versus the Sharks on Saturday and is a big reason why the Coyotes have gone 10-3-2 for their best start since 2000-01.

3. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver) – He suffered a difficult defeat to Detroit last Wednesday, but bounced back with career shutout No. 64 in a 4-0 win against Toronto on Saturday. 

4. Carey Price (Montreal) – The Habs goalie won one and lost one last week, but he still has the eighth best save percentage at .932 in the league.

5. Corey Crawford (Chicago) – The defending Stanley Cup champion goalkeeper has played well lately with seven victories in 10 starts, but did lose at home to Calgary on Sunday.

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