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Florida's Smithson excited to face former team

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — Jerred Smithson admitted he began thinking about Saturday's game almost immediately after being traded by Nashville to Florida eight days ago.

After spending 6-1/2 seasons with Nashville, Smithson was traded to the Panthers on Feb. 24 in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and he will face his former team for the first time Saturday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"I looked right away, actually," Smithson said. "I knew we were coming to Florida fairly soon. That's kind of one game there I had circled in my head that I was looking forward to. Once I get that first shift out of the way, it'll feel a lot better and it's just a hockey game."

Smithson never recorded more than 16 points in a season after signing with Nashville in the first season after the lockout, but he was considered a big part of the Predators nonetheless because of his faceoff prowess, his work ethic and his locker-room presence.

Coach Barry Trotz thought enough of him that he called him after the trade.

"He was one of those guys who helped develop a pretty good culture," Trotz said Saturday. "He was a Predator. He was a guy who was discarded by L.A., signed by Nashville and sort of worked his way as an American League player to the NHL as a role player to a real diligent checker with our team, and he was a big part of the culture. He brings professional, he brings honesty to his game and a work ethic. Smitty made himself a player."

Smithson and Trotz chatted at the morning skate Saturday.

The 33-year-old center called Saturday's game "tough."

"At the end of the day, it's just a hockey game," he said. "They're all buddies over there, but they're going out there to win a hockey game, as are we. We'll go out there and play hard and do my usual thing and hopefully come out with two points."

Smithson is one of three former Nashville players on the Panthers along with Marcel Goc and Mike Santorelli.

His familiarity with the Predators came into play in preparation for this game.

"I've told them what I know and what I can help them out with," Smithson said. "At the end of the day, it's just us going out there and executing and going out there and working hard. We had a long day yesterday, so it's important for us to get a good stretch in and good sweat and just go out there and execute our game plan. That's going to be work ethic. It's going to be a tough game. Both teams can really wheel and deal and have a lot of speed, so it should be exciting."

In four games with the Panthers, Smithson has yet to record a point, but he's won 57.2 percent of his faceoffs. One of the few bright spots in Thursday's 7-0 loss at Winnipeg was Smithson's 7-for-9 performance on draws.

"Jerred Smithson has come in and done a good job for us," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's given us some great options."

Smithson didn't get the chance to visit with some of his former teammates Friday night because the Panthers didn't return from Winnipeg until close to midnight.

"I text the guys here and there, but I'm not quite sure on that end what's going on," he said. "I've gotten a lot of text messages and phone calls from the guys wishing me luck and thanking me and vice versa. They'll always be good friends and I'll stay in contact with them. Just another chapter."

Saturday night, though, it's all business.

Smithson did joke when he was asked whether there was any Nashville player in particular he wanted to hit.

"I'll just go out there and play hard, there's a few guys," he said. "No, I'm just kidding. It should be fun. I'm excited."
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