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GIVIN' IT A SHOT

He can dominate a game in net, move the puck to create more offence for his team and help his d-men ... oh, and he has a heckuva blast from the point

by TY PILSON @typilson / calgaryflames.com

With practice over, Flames goalie Mike Smith did the logical thing - worked on his shot.

After taking to the ice Wednesday morning at WinSport due to the We Day event at the Saddledome, Smith flipped his mask off, dropped his catcher, grabbed a teammate's left-handed stick and took his spot in the half circle of players wiring one-timers on the open net.

With his blocker still on and one bare hand gripping the stick down low, he stepped into shots with surprising power and accuracy, the first one clanging both posts before going in, eliciting some hoots and hollers from his teammates.

"It's fun to score, too," said Smith, flashing a big grin. "I wish I could do that more.

"I was just goofing around out there - just something I do from time to time."

Though coach Glen Gulutzan is no doubt happy for his netminder, arguably the team's MVP over the first dozen games of the season, to focus on stopping pucks, not shooting them, he was suitably impressed with Smith's secondary skill set.

"That's what happens when you have an athletic goalie," marvelled Gulutzan. "Just a great athlete for him to be able to one-time pucks. My son was here saying 'Holy crow, he has a hard shot.'"

Tweet from @NHLFlames: That time your No.-1 goalie practices one-timers with the boys after practice. #whatabeauty pic.twitter.com/U8rjsTzqW9

Arguably the most proficient puck-handling 'tender in the league, Smith's ability to corral dump-ins and quickly make a pass to one of his defenceman is paying dividends for the Flames on multiple levels.

First off, he makes it incredibly tough for teams to establish a forecheck and very easy for the Flames to quickly move the puck back up ice.

"The thing I notice going through the video is just how much offence we're getting from him creating the first pass," said Gulutzan. "So that's evident to see, day-in, day-out, how well he moves it is actually creating opportunities for us.

"The other thing that you notice is the zone time of other teams. There's two or three times a game where they can't establish anything because he gets to a puck and moves it so good. So then you have the increased amount of attacks (for your team) and the decreased amount of attacks against."

The second benefit to Smith's play is that it saves a significant amount of wear-and-tear on the team's defenceman, something that should pay dividends at the end of a long season when it's time for a playoff push.

"That's what I really take a lot of pride in," said Smith. "Kind of helping save the defenceman as much as we can. It's a grind over the schedule. If I save one or two checks against them a game I feel like that's really beneficial.

It can take a little time for the blueliners to get used to a goalie as active as Smith, but 12 games into the season he feels they are all on the same page now.

"It's gotten better and better as the season's gone along," he said. "Guys get more accustomed to me playing the puck. It's something I really take pride in as far as helping the guys get out of our end and into the offensive zone."

Smith explained that venturing out of his net actually keeps him more focused while he's in it.

"Absolutely," said Smith. "I feel like it's a big part of my game. So I think the more I can get involved and help the group out, it keeps me in the rhythm. Maybe you're not facing shots or whatever it may be but you're still active in the game, mentally prepared, and aware of what's going in in the whole game."

 

Of course, when you play the puck as much as Smith there's bound to be the occasional flub which can quickly cause a little panic in those rooting for the homeside.   

"There's going to be those times in games," said Smith, with a quick smile. "The key is not to panic - that's the first thing that comes to your mind: 'oh my God!' But, like I said, I've been doing it for so long that things are going to happen out there, mistakes are going to happen, and hopefully it doesn't cost your team. But I think for the most part, I want to make simple plays that aren't high risk, that are going to help the team.

"Obviously there are going to be times when the fans are probably 'going get back in your net' but, for the most part, I kind of know what I'm doing."

Smith has two professional goals to his name, one coming his first year in the ECHL and the other in the NHL.

Does he think often about scoring the second, looking for a chance to hit paydirt again?

 "Well, we'll see," smiled Smith again. "My job is to stop the puck. If it comes to the time it's available, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Given how well he was shooting the puck Wednesday, the joke was made he missed his calling, that maybe he could fire one-timers on the powerplay, kind of like an Ovechkin?

"I'm a more a stand in the front type of guy," he laughed.

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