GLENDALE – At the end of the season, goalie Mike Smith wasn’t sure if he wanted to play for Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Championship.
He was honored to have been invited, of course, but he’d just finished a challenging and frustrating season with the Coyotes and the annual international tournament was thousands of miles away in the Czech Republic. On top of that, he had just played for Team Canada – and won a gold medal – last year at the Winter Olympics.
|Mike Smith. Photo by Getty Images. |
Clearly there were plenty of reasons for Smith to say thanks but no thanks to Team Canada and skip the World Championship. Nevertheless, Smith accepted the invitation hoping to begin his off-season on a high.
It was a wise decision.
Smith started and won eight of Canada’s 10 games and helped lead the team to its first gold medal at the event since 2007. It was the second gold medal for Smith and Team Canada in 16 months, but this one, he said, means more to him because he played such a key role. At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Smith was the third-string goalie and he did not appear in any of Canada’s games.
"The Olympic stage is obviously a lot different, but for me, to be honest, it’s more rewarding this time around just because I had more to do with it than in Sochi," Smith said. "To be in the net for the majority of the games and to really have something to hang my hat on as far as winning, it definitely will hold a special place in my heart for a long time."
Smith finished the World Championship ranked second in goals-against average (1.50) and third in save percentage (.930). In the three medal-round games he posted two shutouts and stopped 58 of 59 shots.
"It reiterates that I’m a pretty good goalie," Smith said. "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."
|Mike Smith |
Smith said he learned a lot about himself at the tournament. Team Canada outscored opponents, 66-15, and Smith said staying focused during lopsided wins was a challenge. The flow of those games was something he wasn’t used to but he was able to adapt and thrive.
The Canadians rarely were challenged at the tournament and they capped the event with a resounding 6-1 win over Russia in the Gold Medal Game. The Russians, whose roster included Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, managed just 12 shots on goal.
"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 honored to be able to win another gold medal for Canada."
Smith said the Canadians were well prepared and focused on ending the eight-year gold medal drought at this event.
"We had a plan," Smith said. "The coaching staff was unbelievable from Day One. We had a plan of what we were going to do, how we were going to do it and we got better every single day that the tournament went on and that just carried us through to the final game."
Smith and his family and his teammates celebrated the Gold Medal Game win in Prague on the ice and off the ice before returning home. Next up is some quality family time in Toronto and two or three weeks of no hockey.
After that, Smith quickly will turn his attention back to the Coyotes and the 2015-16 season.
"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."