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First goal is memorable for Smith

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Brendan Smith scores his first career NHL goal on this play against Minnesota and Wild goalie Josh Harding. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROIT – There’s plenty of expectation heaped on first-round draft picks in the NHL. And even more when it’s assumed that he could be heir apparent to the Red Wings’ blue line throne.

Playing in his fifth game as a Red Wing – but his first in front of the Joe Louis Arena faithful – Brendan Smith couldn’t have written a better Hollywood script Friday night.

The Wings rookie defenseman scored his first career NHL goal in helping the Wings to a 6-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
“He's a real good player, we've known for a long time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Just a matter of giving him an opportunity. I thought (Jakub) Kindl and him were excellent again, in back-to-back games. Smitty's a good skater.”

During the fourth shift of his first home game for the Wings, Smith scored the goal that he later said he’ll never forget. With his parents (Deidre and Lester) and his grandfather, Lester Smith Sr., at the game, Smith he gave Detroit a two-goal cushion in the first period.

“It was huge to have my grandfather here, I mean, when we were little kids – there are three of us and we only had two parents – so he had to jump in there and drive us,” Smith said. “He was the reason for us getting to practice a lot of times, and games. He’s pretty much the third parent there for us and he’s always been there for us, so he’s on Cloud Nine so it’s pretty exciting to have him here for my first goal.”

Smith’s goal was the result of his hustle. With the play deep in the Wild’s zone and Justin Abdelkader trying to whack the puck passed goalie Josh Harding, it was Smith who slipped down toward the crease undetected and slapped home a loose puck at 16:04.

“They had been going glass-out the whole time and made the D come out a lot, but at the same time they weren’t watching the play so I think (Danny) Cleary made a great play on the defenseman and striped the puck,” Smith said. “Once I saw that Cleary stripped the puck from (Marco) Scandella I jumped up in the rush and beat my forward, and it was kind of like a gimme.”
A first-round selection in 2007, Smith chose the U.S. college route over junior hockey. He went to the University of Wisconsin where he had a very success career and led the nation in scoring among defensemen with 15 goals and 52 points as a junior last season. He was one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the nation’s top collegiate hockey player.
Last November, Smith was called up for the first time in his NHL when Ian White, who suffered a fractured jaw, was prohibited from traveling on a four-game road trip out west.

Smith earned high praise for the three games that he played, collecting two assists. While he knew he was up with the club as a fill-in for White, this call-up is much different.

“I thought I played pretty well out west and that’s how I want to play to be honest, very simple and pick my chances,” Smith said. “Obviously as an offensive defenseman, you’ve got to choose the right time to jump up in the rush and the right time to pinch.

“I have to play simple, and for me I have to play this method, the KISS method that everyone keeps telling me about, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It’s a thing where you want to keep it simple and play within your own abilities and when you get those chances then you can take advantage of them. But mostly, play simple and make that first good pass, good pivots and play good defensively.”

Babcock has raved about Smith’s skill level, telling some reporters in the past that he believed the 23-year-old from suburban Toronto should have been in the NHL all along. Unfortunately, Smith got caught up in the numbers with the team’s deep roster.

“I’ve heard it before and how I could have played last year on some of the teams in the NHL, but obviously not here, because they’re so good,” Smith said. “Detroit has had some great teams and made the playoffs for the last 20 years or something. It’s a tough organization to jump right in as a rookie and stuff, but the biggest thing is for (Babcock) to have that much confidence in me and I’m going to try to not let him down and keep playing hard and do what he’s expecting.”

But Smith played so well with the Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids that he quickly ascended up Detroit’s depth chart, which eventually led to the team making room for him by trading Mike Commodore last week.

“They’re testing me out and seeing if I can be relied on and I think that is the biggest thing,” Smith said. “Now I’m playing to keep myself in the lineup here and obviously for next year, too. I think a lot of that will be determined by my play and stuff that I’m doing in the gym, because I obviously have to get a little bigger. And I’ll have to play like I did in Columbus and keep it going.”

With plethora of injuries to the defensive corps, Smith was pressed into service in the Wings’ 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Nicklas Lidstrom has missed the last two games with a deep ankle bruise. Friday was just the ninth home game that Lidstrom has missed in his 20-season career (see list below).

While it was easy to be star-struck as a teenager when he first arrived in Detroit, he appreciates learning from some of the best players in the game, and particular, from the best defenseman in the world.

“I’ve been looking up to Nick since I was a young kid so, but so has pretty much everybody else,” Smith said about Lidstrom. “It’s a cool feeling and I try to pick his brain a little here because obviously I’m like a sponge when I’m up here and trying to learn all of those things.

“More or less (it’s) the little things that most people don’t notice because it’s so simple, like when he drags the puck on the offensive blue line he has his head up the whole time. Good pivots, a good stick, how to gap up, all of these little things that make-up who he is. Some times you watch Nick and he’s like flawless because he does those little things so well and that makes that much of a difference and will make you from a mid-class player to a pro-class player and that’s who he is. Just the little things that people might not pick up on and the more he tells me the more I’m going to be a sponge and soak it in.”

NOTEBOOK: The Blackhawks arrived in Detroit in the early morning hours Saturday from Ottawa where they played Friday night, and their equipment was taken directly to the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park. With Joe Louis Arena unavailable Saturday, the Blackhawks will dress at the ballpark and bus to City Sports Arena where they have an afternoon practice scheduled.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

Career games missed by Nicklas Lidstrom - * Denotes Playoff Game
Mar. 2, 2012 Joe Louis Arena W 6-0
Feb. 28, 2012 Nationwide Arena W 5-2
Jan. 25, 2012 Bell Centre L 7-2
May 27, 2009* Joe Louis Arena W 2-1
May 24, 2009* United Center W 6-1
Apr. 12, 2009 United Center L 3-0
Jan. 27, 2009 Nationwide Arena OTL 3-2
Dec. 30, 2008 Joe Louis Arena W 4-0
Dec. 27, 2008 Pepsi Center SOL 4-3
Mar. 5, 2008 Joe Louis Arena W 4-1
Mar. 2, 2008 HSBC Arena W 4-2
Feb. 29, 2008 Joe Louis Arena L 3-2
Feb. 26, 2008 Rexall Place SOL 4-3
Feb. 23, 2008 GM Place L 4-1
Feb. 22, 2008 Pengrowth Saddledome L 1-0
Apr. 5, 2007 United Center SOL 3-2
Apr. 1, 2007 Nationwide Arena W 4-1
Apr. 18, 2006 Gaylord Entertainment Center L 6-3
Feb. 28, 2006 HP Pavilion L 5-1
Apr. 3, 2004 Nationwide Arena L 4-1
Apr. 6, 2002 Compaq Center L 6-3
Apr. 4, 2002 Staples Center L 3-0
Apr. 3, 2002 Arrowhead Pond T 1-1
Mar. 30, 2002 Joe Louis Arena W 4-1
Apr. 9, 2000 Pepsi Center L 3-2
Apr. 17, 1999 United Center L 3-2
Apr. 4, 1998 United Center W 3-2
Nov. 13, 1997 Corel Centre W 4-2
Apr. 5, 1997 Maple Leaf Gardens W 4-2
Apr. 3, 1997 Joe Louis Arena T 2-2
JAn. 20, 1997 Molson Centre L 4-1
Apr. 14, 1996 Reunion Arena W 5-1
Apr. 19, 1995 Joe Louis Arena T 5-5
Apr. 16, 1995 Savvis Center L 6-5
Apr. 14, 1995 United Center W 3-1
Apri. 13, 1995 Joe Louis Arena W 3-0
Apr. 11, 1995 Reunion Arena W 4-1

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