Vancouver Sun

Oilers' Smith honoured for mettle

Goalie's perseveran­ce impresses writers

- ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI Edmonton rtychkowsk­

Mike Smith is a fighter.

And no, we're not talking about skating across the ice at the Saddledome to throw haymakers at Cam Talbot in that classic Battle of Alberta goalie scrap last year.

But that was a pretty accurate glimpse of the competitiv­e fire that makes him such a driving force in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room.

It's hard to read lips through a goalie mask, but you just know he was saying something along the lines of, “Line brawl? I want in on this, baby!”

“His intensity follows him with everything he does,” defenceman Tyson Barrie said. “It's not just on the ice. Any sort of game or competitio­n you find yourself in with him off the ice can end in a fight.”

Barrie is half-joking, but the point is clear. Smith plays to win or he doesn't play at all. Twenty years and more than 17,000 saves after being selected 161st overall in the NHL draft, he is still winning. Simply put, the Oilers nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is the embodiment of perseveran­ce, sportsmans­hip and dedication to hockey, which is why the Edmonton chapter of the Profession­al Hockey Writers Associatio­n made him their unanimous choice.

“Excellent choice,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He's the epitome of a guy who puts the work in and is committed to being a good player. I saw him doing it as a rookie and he's still doing it at 39.

“Credit to him. He's come in very motivated, played very well for us and been a big part of our team this year. It's a great choice.”

Smith's ageless performanc­e this season is a stark, defiant contrast to anything that was expected of him. With the Oilers poised to take a big step forward in their evolution this year, fans and media spent all summer hollering for a change in goal, refusing to believe a 39-year-old could support the weight of that mounting responsibi­lity, even as a backup.

Few believed he had it in him. But when the Oilers got outbid on Jacob Markstrom, and when Mikko Koskinen showed he wasn't consistent enough to be the full-time starter, guess who joined the fight?

Smith's 2.28 goals-against average and .928 save percentage are the second-best totals of his 15-year career. The only time he posted better numbers was in 2011-12 with the stingy, Tippett-coached Phoenix Coyotes.

“On and off the ice, I'm just trying to be a good leader and do my part to push us in the right direction and to win,” Smith said. “That's what it's all about for me. That's why I've played as long as I have, to chase the dream and to win as a team. Nothing is more fun than to win as a group.”

Needless to say, the fun factor is off the charts this year. Who wouldn't love being a 39-yearold goalie putting up rock-star numbers and being the glue that holds a Connor McDavid team together?

Being sixth in the league in save percentage among goalies with 20 or more games and third in winning percentage (76.9) also brings him into the Vezina Trophy conversati­on, but that's not a conversati­on he's interested in having.

“It honestly hasn't crossed my mind once,” Smith said. “It's the least of my concerns. If I'm playing well and helping this team win, getting to the playoffs is goal No. 1. At this point in my career, there's only one thing I'm focused on right now.”

He does agree that he is aging well, though. “I'd be the first one to admit I didn't handle myself very well as a kid in this league,” he said. “The emotions of the game, the ups and downs, outweighed how I could handle it. I feel like I have a good grasp on that now. I've been through a lot of different situations in this sport and have learned a lot. It's made me a much better player in this league at my age.”

 ?? AL CHAREST FILES ?? Edmonton's profession­al hockey writers have chosen Oilers goalie Mike Smith for the Masterton Trophy.
AL CHAREST FILES Edmonton's profession­al hockey writers have chosen Oilers goalie Mike Smith for the Masterton Trophy.
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