GLENDALE – Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is eager to compete for Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, which starts Friday in Czech Republic.
Smith was a part of Team Canada last year when it won a gold medal at the Olympics in Sochi. He was the third-string goalie for that club and did not get into a game. He’s expected to receive plenty of ice time at the World Championship, though, with LA Kings goalie Martin Jones likely serving as his backup. Smith is hoping to play well at the event, at which 16 nations will compete for the gold medal.
Smith struggled for the Coyotes in the first half of the 2014-15 season, but his play later in the campaign has him excited for this tournament and to come back to the Coyotes next season.
"It was nice to finish strong," Smith said. "Obviously the start was nothing close to where I wanted it, but it was nice to come back the last couple months, and I feel like I learned something about myself and got better as a player and person. I want to come back next season ready to go at the start of camp and not take a couple months to get into it."
Smith said refining the mental aspect of his game was a big key to his turnaround.
"I just got into a groove and played my game, worrying about what I can control," Smith said. "Ultimately it gave me a chance to play some better hockey."
Unlike past summers, in which Smith came to Arizona early to skate informally with teammates before training camp, Smith plans to prepare for next season almost exclusively in Ontario, working with his personal goalie coach Jon Elkin.
|Mike Smith. Photo by Norm Hall. |
"Next year I will be more focused on the on-ice stuff, coming into camp and ready to go, not winding into things and trying to feel my game out the first month of the season," Smith said. "I want to be ready to go from Day One. So, I’ll work with my goalie coach back home more and I won’t be coming into Arizona until a few days until camp. In the past I was skating a month before with the guys, but I found I got into bad habits playing shinny hockey and I will really be working on my fundamentals and come into camp ready to go."
Regarding Elkin, who was the Calgary Flames goalie coach for three seasons and has been the goalie coach for teams in the AHL, WHL, QMJHL and OHL, Smith said: "I’ve worked with him since I was 12 years old and I lean on him for advice. He’s a huge reason why I am here today."
This will be Smith’s second appearance for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship. Playing for Head Coach Dave Tippett a year ago, Smith appeared in four games and posted a 1.65 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Todd McLellan is Canada’s Head Coach this time around and Smith is hoping the former San Jose Sharks head coach will use him often.
"It (playing at the World Championship) gets your body used to playing at this time of the year," Smith said, after being asked why he wanted to participate. "And any time you have an opportunity to play for your country it’s an honor even though it isn’t the highest stage like the Olympics. But I will have a chance to play some games and go to Prague, which is not a bad place."