It’s funny how things work in this game sometimes. A few weeks ago, Devante Smith-Pelly was nearing the home stretch of his season with Norfolk of the AHL, where he was leading the Admirals in goal-scoring. Fast-forward to last Sunday night, when Smith-Pelly scored two goals – including the dramatic game-tying strike with 24 seconds left in regulation – in an incredible Game 6 comeback victory in Dallas that clinched the first round series with the Stars.
It was unquestionably the high point of an up-and-down season for Smith-Pelly, who played 16 games with the Ducks this season before being sent down in late November. He didn’t get another chance with the big club until early April, and he has made the most of it. He played three regular season games – including April 12 in LA when he had the game-winner on his first NHL shootout attempt – and appeared in five of the six in the Dallas series.
The 21-year-old Smith-Pelly has shuttled back and forth between Anaheim and the AHL a few times since the Ducks drafted him with the 42nd pick of the 2010 NHL Draft at Staples Center. Now he’s looking forward to making the most of his opportunities back at that arena and home at Honda Center during what figures to be an intense series with the Kings.
Following practice at Honda Center on Thursday morning, Smith-Pelly ("Devo" to his teammates) talked about that goal in Dallas, the upcoming Ducks-Kings clash and more. I know it’s been a few days, but let’s talk about that goal in Game 6. How did you have the presence of mind to hold that puck for an instant and lift it, rather than just jabbing away at it?
I definitely can’t describe it. I think if that happens another nine times out of ten, I’m probably just going to try and jam it back in. So I don’t know why I decided that was the time to show some patience. I’ve watched it a couple more times, and I still don’t know why I decided that was what I was going to do. But I’m glad I did. Yeah, and I got pretty lucky that it ended coming out to me. I would have looked kind of dumb if it didn’t.
Moving on, when you watched Kings-Sharks Game 7, did you find yourself leaning one way or another?
No, not really. I just wanted it to be a good game, a physical game.Triple overtime?
Yeah, exactly. Something like that. But it was a good game to watch and a great series, obviously. Can you describe what that atmosphere is going to be like for Ducks-Kings?
I could try to, but there is probably no way to describe it. It’s going to be pretty crazy, not only in the arena, but the area is going to be buzzing. I’m really really really excited to get a chance to be part of it.
You spent a good portion of this season back in Norfolk, and now you’re playing a big role in these playoffs. How would you characterize your season?
It’s been pretty crazy. It’s up and down, just like everybody’s year. When I was down there, I tried to work as hard as I could and get better. I thought that over the course of the year, I did get a lot better, and the coaches were great to me. I just tried to work hard and wait for my chance again. It’s unfortunate that it had to come from someone [Matt Beleskey] getting hurt, but I’ve just tried to seize the moment.
Where do you think you’ve improved this season?
|"You always grow up thinking about playing in the playoffs, and to finally get that chance, I’m having so much fun. Regardless of the ups and downs that come with the postseason, I’m enjoying every minute of it. Hopefully it lasts another couple months." |
It sounds cliché or whatever, but just my overall game. I think I’ve improved in all three zones, but the thing I think I’ve improved the most is probably my offensive game. I was put in a lot of offensive situations there and scored a lot of goals. That was huge for my confidence, and it’s something I hope will carry over here.
Your first experience at Staples Center was the 2010 Draft, when the Ducks took you in the second round. What do you remember about that experience?
I remember sitting behind “Emer” [Emerson Etem] when he got drafted. It seems like a long time ago. I remember the second day when I got picked, just being really really nervous. And when I heard Bob Murray go up there and start saying my junior team’s name, I was a little more sure, but still not really sure. When he said my name, it was amazing. Every time I go back to play there, I always think about that day. It was not only me getting drafted, but it was having me and Emer, who have been friends forever, go to the same team. This is the most intense time of year, but is it fun too?
Oh yeah. For me personally, playing in games that matter this much is always the most fun. Games that are super-intense, rivalries and stuff like that, those are my favorite to play in. You always grow up thinking about playing in the playoffs, and to finally get that chance, I’m having so much fun. Regardless of the ups and downs that come with the postseason, I’m enjoying every minute of it. Hopefully, it lasts another couple months.