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Q&A - Ladislav Smid

Ladislav Smid on his new role with the team and how his recovery from neck surgery is going

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

The first came two years ago, almost to the day.

The second came in a game 10 months ago.

His last.

"My family and my wife, my family and her family have been really supportive. They know what I'm going through," injured Calgary Flames defenceman Ladislav Smid started. 

"Not every day is an easy day. I'm not going to lie. There are some days where I'm very depressed about it. 

"I'm 30-years-old. 

"I want to be out there and be with my teammates.

"I'm around them but it's not the same. It's the stuff away from the locker room that's fun, and the hockey itself … the adrenaline, being on the bench and on the ice … it's nothing like it.

"I still love the game. A lot.

"There's good days. There's worse days.

"At least I'm still around the hockey game."

Smid was caught reaching for the puck, and then-Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Simon Despres caught him high in the second period of a 3-1 loss on Dec. 12, 2014. 

Season-ending surgery followed.

And after a lengthy, uncertain recovery, Smid returned for the 2015-16 season.

Until a hit by Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild in a 5-3 setback to the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 17, 2016 sidelined Smid.

Indefinitely. 

"I think the Despres hit made me upset because I thought it was directed at my head," he said. "I probably should've protected myself a little better. Zucker's hit … it was really a nothing hit. I wasn't prepared for the hit and the other thing is I wasn't totally healthy, I guess. It didn't take a big bump. 

"The Despres hit made me upset, but I'm passed it. That hit really sent me for another surgery.

"It's hard. At least I knew what was going to happen because I had one surgery before that. This was more difficult surgery because they had to go in the other way, from my back. The recovery is a little longer … six-to-nine months. 

"It was much worse pain-wise."

The effects of both hits have halted -- he hopes temporarily -- Smid's 10-year, 583-game NHL career.

He's sitting out the 2016-17 season -- the last on his four-year contract signed -- to rest, recuperate and re-evaluate his ongoing neck issues.

And earn a front-office education in the process. 

Smid is working in Calgary's front office in a variety of capacities under general manager Brad Treliving to get a sense of his options down the road.

He took the time to chat with CalgaryFlames.com for a Q&A about just that, his current health, and the future of his hockey playing days. 

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: Did the surgery after the Despres hit prepare you for what might have, and what has happened? 

SMID: You have a lot of time, right? Then my kids were born too right around that time. It really put things in perspective for me in terms of what's important. When you have newborns … and you're waiting for them for such a long time and you can't hold them for the first month of their life because you just can't. You barely remember the first month of their lives because you're out of it. You're on painkillers and muscle relaxants because after surgery you're really sore. It's really put things into perspective. Now I know my priorities. I don't know if I'm done with hockey, but I'm not going to be taking any chances.

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: Was the opening day of training camp one of those tough days? You put on a brave face, but how difficult was it to put in the work to get to that point but not be able to be cleared. 

SMID: It wasn't a decision I made or we made overnight. It's been in the making for the past few months. Over the summer I talked to Brad a few times. We made the decision together what's best for me. I knew where it was heading and what's going to happen. It wasn't a brave face. I kind of accepted it. There are good days … you don't really think about it. Then there's one day where you go to the hockey game and you come home and you wish you would've been there for the big win. That feels so good. But I would say I have more good days, especially with my family. I'm basically a stay-at-home dad … all that stuff. I don't have much time to think about the bad stuff. I'm not going to say it was easy. It's still not easy. But it's getting easier and easier everyday.

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: This opportunity to stay in hockey and get a front-office education must help ease things, no? 

SMID: Especially earlier … it's so weird. You're on the player's side and then kind of overnight you're behind the closed door in meetings. They're talking about your former teammates and friends, but you have to cut that cord. I'm still friends with guys. But you can't tell them what's going on behind the closed door or what's said behind the closed doors. It's eye-opening. Now I see it from the other side. There is so much more that goes into things. It's really eye-opening. I'm glad that Brad gave me the opportunity to see it from the other side and see if there's a future there.

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: When you walk into the dressing room, do the players see you as Laddy the teammate, or Laddy the executive?

SMID: We always joke around, but if a guy asks me what he should improve on, I'm going to tell him from my perspective and not what was said there. I'm still their friend. I want them to get better. I want the team to get better. But I would never betray anyone's trust behind that closed door.

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: What's the biggest eye-opener?

SMID: How players are assessed, and how much juggling goes into the salary cap and how that's not gone really anywhere the last couple of years. You have to juggle things. And procedures, like calling up guys … it's all different. It's big for a GM and assistant GM's and scouts … it's a lot of responsibility. It's a stressful job. 

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: How do you define your role, and is it easy to?

SMID: A little bit of scouting. I've skated with the injured guys a few times. I've gone to the farm team … I really enjoy going to Stockton and working with the younger guys. I didn't play the longest in the NHL, but 10 years … you have some kind of experience and I've gone through ups and downs and through injuries. I think I can give them my input on things … especially the young guys. We have some really good prospects and they've been listening. I go on the ice with them and show them a few things. It's really a satisfying job. I like to do that. I know how hard it can be. Being young and coming from Europe it's a hard adjustment. We have a few guys like that. It's good to talk to them and give them a few things to think about. Then stuff around the locker room … talking to the trainers if there's a message to be said to players or what players need … kind of in-between the management and the player's side.

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: Are you living by every win and every loss like you would as a player or is it easier to look at the bigger picture?

SMID: Bigger picture, for sure. Early in the year we were struggling a lot and there was a lot of stress. Obviously you don't want to let things slide too far, but you see the bigger picture. The season still has 82 games. We had Bob (Hartley) for almost four years. We played under his program and style for such a long time. When you get a new coach and new coaching staff … every coach has a different style of coaching and different systems. It was an adjustment period. I kind of knew the guys were going to pick it up. We've got a really dedicated group here and hard-working guys. I believe in the group and they did too. We've played some good hockey. I'm very proud of the group. It's not easy to switch over the summer to a new system, new system 5-on-5, new system PK, new system power play. I think the coaches are doing a great job. They talk to the guys a lot. There's a lot of video. If something needs to be addressed they address it right away. I think the guys have been responding very well lately. 

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: This time off, has it allowed you to improve physically? Are you making progress?

SMID: I feel good. The neck … it's the mental side. You have good days and then some bad days. Because I'm not taking any contact … I don't really feel any pain anymore. If I sleep funny I still feel it once in a while. Most days are pretty good. I still keep in shape. I still work out. That's what my surgeon told me … not to let myself go. I need to support my neck with muscle. I've stayed in shape. I work out almost every day. That helps the mental side, too. You get away from stuff and give yourself two hours of hard work and it's refreshing.

CALGARYFLAMES.COM: What drives you to keep pushing and keep remaining optimistic about the potential to play again? 

SMID: It gives me hope. I'm not ready to call it quits yet. I know there's a big possibility that I might retire fully. But there's a chance that I might play hockey again. That's going to depend on doctors and my surgeon … if he's going to give me a green light. Until then I want to do everything I can to stay in shape, be prepared mentally for both outcomes. It kind of drives me. Going to work out, coming here … you never know. The workout part is good for me mentally, but also preparing me if I can step back on the ice. Coming here every day and being around the team and seeing the stuff on the other side prepares me for the other outcome. Either way I hope I'm going to be more ready than I would be if I didn't do anything.

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