by Jerry Burke - Special to www.nhl.com
If your name is Brad Smyth
, chances are your nickname over the course of your hockey career has been "Smitty."
But when Smyth first walked into the Hartford Wolf Pack locker room back for the 1998-99 season, the team already Geoff and Adam Smith, so there figured to be a bit of confusion. At the time, Derek Armstrong rode to the rescue, remembering Smyth's penchant for shooting the puck.
It was fitting a fitting nickname and it has stuck ever since.
"I think I shot the puck about 30 times in the first five or so games I played here," Smyth recalls.
Hartford coach John Paddock, one of the winningest coaches in AHL history, says that his high scoring right wing is one of those players that every team must have in order to succeed in the AHL. He's just glad that Smyth is the guy on his team and not the one that he has to prepare his team to play against.
"It goes without saying that every team needs a guy that they can look too to score goals," says Paddock. "Every team needs a guy that they know is going to be able to pull the trigger and for us, Brad's that guy."
Smyth has a knack for scoring goals. Lots of goals.
In 1995-96, while with the Carolina Monarchs, he found the back of the net 68 times in just 68 games. His total that year was the second highest in the annuls of the AHL, surpassed only by the 70 scored by Sherbrooke's Stephan Lebeau back during the 1988-89 season. That season, Smyth was awarded both the Les Cunningham Plaque for AHL Most Valuable Player and the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the League's leading scorer.
Smyth may have netted many a goal during his career, but he is quick to credit the players that have helped make it possible. He understands that every great goal scorer must have skilled players to get him the puck in order for him to work his magic.
"I've been fortunate to play with some really good players during my career," Smyth said. "I've been blessed to have guys like Brett Harkins, Marc Savard and Derek Armstrong as linemates and all three of those guys are really gifted passers."
While Smyth doesn't downplay the importance of goal scoring, he quickly states that all he has to do to be successful is get free from a check on the ice. He knows a skilled playmaking center will find him if he's open.
"All those guys that I just mentioned are the type of center who will just tell you to get open because they know they will be able to get the puck to you," Smyth said. "I guess there's a bit of an art in being able to shake a check and to be able to get open and I've been able to do that through my career so I guess the combination of all those things has allowed me to be successful out there."
Armstrong, now playing for SC Bern in the Swiss League, says Smyth just has the uncanny ability to find the net with his shot.
"It's just a knack certain players have," Armstrong said. "Everything he shoots just seems to end up on net."
Smyth quickly points out, though, that not every goal is highlight reel quality. He laughs when he says that there have been more than his share of the ugly variety tossed in there.
"Not every goal is going to be scored off of a three-on-two or a two-on-one," Smyth said. "Sometimes the goals are going to come from banging around in front of the net and just being there when a rebound pops loose. Sometimes you just have to get tough with the puck and just keep working it towards the net. They're not always pretty."
The Ottawa, Ontario native also points out that he and his linemates must know each other's tendencies on the ice if he is to be able to get the opportunity to put his team on the scoreboard.
"Oh, you definitely have to get used to who you're out there with," Smyth said. "Being able to read your team mates is a very important part of being successful in hockey. You have to know if they're the type of player that likes to hold onto the puck for the extra second or where you should be setting yourself up in case there's a rebound."
Smyth says getting rid of the puck as quickly as possible is also integral to being able to light the lamp regularly.
"No doubt a quick release is part of my game," admits the 6-foot, 200-pound winger. "I know that not giving the opposing goaltender a chance to get set for my shot is a huge advantage."
Smyth has scored a team leading 31 goals this season which has helped Hartford climb to the top of the AHL's Eastern Conference. He also has added 43 assists.
"Yeah, goal-wise I think that maybe I've been a little snake bit this season, but ironically, my assists are way up," Smyth said. "I think that shows you that every player has to be able to do more than one thing in order to help his team out there. No one player can be expected to score goals and do nothing else."
But as the regular season winds down and the Calder Cup Playoffs quickly approach, John Paddock can rest assured that he has a player that he can count on to give his team a shot to win.