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Smith wants to get some work in during the pre-season but team doesn't want to tire star goaltender out

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

BEIJING - The ace of the staff is set to take the hill for the first time this pre-season.

The guy at the glamour position is back behind centre, calling signals.

Mike Smith is eager to get this thing rolling.

But managing their star goaltender, these days, is paramount in achieving collective goals for the Flames. 

When to dial up and when to pull back.

"Especially in camp,'' says GM Brad Treliving, "goaltenders have to get their reps. Got it. Understood. 

"But I always found it interesting that they're the most important guy on the team yet we trot 'em out there every day during a season, in how many practices, and fire thousands of pucks at them.

"It doesn't make sense.

"You compare goaltending in our game to other sports: It's pitching in baseball and quarterbacking in football. In baseball, they trot that guy once out every five days. Maybe he throws the day after a start, maybe not but everything's designed to have him at optimum performance level for that next start.

"In football, if everyone's wearing black in practice, the guy playing quarterback's wearing red. You don't touch him. You just don't, right?

"But the main guy in our sport, we just chuck him out there and then fire 'em by his ear. Day after day after day. We've talked to the league about carrying a specific guy, predominantly for practice.

"The wear and tear, remember, isn't just the shots, it's getting ready, getting the gear on. You hear people say: 'Oh, he wasn't very busy tonight. Only 26 shots' … well, he's mentally preparing on every shot. There might've been 12 blocks and 20 misses. So he's still preparing for 58. How many up-and-downs is that? It can take a toll.

"We've got a plan but a lot of it is predicated on Mike. But it's a balancing act. He wants to get his work in but there's a time once the season is up and going where discretion is the better part of valour."

For his part, Smith is confident he's making the proper calls when it comes to his on-ice work.

"It's feel,'' says the uber-competitive goaltender, following an unfashionably late practice at O.R.G. Arena here in the Chinese capital. "All feel.

"It's important to manage the time off.

"You've got to know when it's time to turn it up and go hard. I think we've done a pretty good job of managing the games played and the practice time."

Owing to customs hold-ups, incoming typhoons and the like, Monday marked only the second on-ice workout since touching down in Shenzhen.

"Some consistency would be nice,'' acknowledged Smith, held out entirely from Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins but slated to go Wednesday at Cadillac Arena. "Especially being an older guy coming to camp, it's obviously been a little more difficult with the circumstances.

"It's sometimes difficult to start a camp anyway. You've got fitness testing, we had a golf tournament. So there's inconsistencies at home, then we get here, weird travel and stuff like that.

"But the important thing is that we've been together as a team through the adversity of the whole trip.

"Nothing ceases to amaze us anymore. Just when you've seen it all, something else happens.

"No sense dwelling on it.

"Obviously it's nice to get back on the ice today - tonight - and get 'er going again."

Right now, in these decidedly odd first days of a unique training-camp start, he's feeling practice-deprived.
Come December, though …

"I have a good feel for what I need,'' says Smith. "I feel good mentally, where I'm at.

"When I feel that things are coming off the rails a little bit, when I need a little more practice time, I think Siggy (goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet) has done a good job of managing that also.

"There's a lot of communication that goes on.

"It's all good."

He has to be, needless to add, if the Flames are to be.

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