Right wing Givani Smith was drafted by the Red Wings in the second round, 46th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Toronto native is one of four Red Wings prospects writing for our Taking Flight blog series, which chronicles the players' ups and downs as they work their way to becoming Red Wings. Smith currently plays for Detroit's AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Here is his third entry of 'Powering Forward.'
Powering Forward - Entry 3
by Givani Smith
Hi everybody, I hope you're all doing well. Things have been going a lot better for me in Grand Rapids. I knew coming here that there were things I had to work on. I knew it wasn't going to be a sprint for me, it's a marathon. Especially being my first year, there's many pro things I have to work on and just small pro veteran tips that I need to learn. Finally, I'm learning it now. I knew I wouldn't learn it in junior because it's a different style of game but I'm happy. It's taken me a little while but I'm finally starting to see the picture and I have to do it, I need to do what needs to get done.
My awareness level has been the biggest adjustment I've had to make - that's holding onto pucks, managing pucks in the offensive zone, really paying attention in the D-zone and watching where my defenseman is, making sure I get pucks out on the wall, really small things that add up to a big picture at the end of the game. That's what my big difference was for me, it's overall game play. I can tell that Benny (Ben Simon, Grand Rapids head coach) is starting to trust me a little bit more, he's playing me the last five minutes and putting me out in situations where he hasn't before when I first got here, which is really important to me. It's those small goals that I'm trying to achieve in my career, especially my rookie season.
As my on-ice game has started to come together, I recently had an off-ice experience that allowed me to speak to a group of kids about being a hockey player. It was part of the Griffins Youth Foundation and it's just to help kids who can't necessarily afford to play hockey because it's really expensive. I met with a bunch of kids and they get equipment and stuff like that to help the parents and the kids play hockey. It was a special night because we had a few guest speakers, including myself, come in.
Originally, it was a dinner that I was invited to come out to and talk to the children and we watched a short video on Willie O'Ree (first black player in the NHL) and his acceptance speech into the Hall of Fame, which was really, really interesting. The kids had a chance to ask me a few questions and I was talking to them, just showing my support for those kids so that they knew I really appreciate what they do and especially what their parents do.
The questions they asked me, some of the good ones were how many goals did I score, what was my routine before the game, what do I eat and what was it like playing minor hockey and if I ever went through certain things or had to go through adversity, being an African-Canadian player.
They were just more interested in me being a hockey player. I'm sure the majority of those kids were of African-American descent and just seeing me, me being black, also playing hockey, it's something kind of to relate to, which is really nice because when I was younger, I would always look up to certain role models and certain players, people who were similar to myself. For me to be there for the kids, just to be there, it was just nice. I was just a hockey player, the Griffins player that was in today talking to them. I think they thought it was pretty cool.
With this being Black History Month and the NHL and Red Wings celebrating Hockey is for Everyone, that's kind of what my message was portraying, that hockey is for everyone. For me, it took a few role models. These kids have role models themselves and some of them mentioned that it was me and I was very fortunate to hear that. I was just saying that hockey is for everyone, it doesn't matter your skin tone or what you do, where you come from. They get that at this age, it's 2019 now, it's progressed. The league has gotten better with more African-Canadian, African-American players starting to play hockey and slowly getting into the NHL.
My wish is for every kid that wants to play hockey will be given the chance and their skin color will not be an issue. Growing up playing hockey and being the skin tone that I am, sometimes people looked at me a certain way, like I really didn't belong here but for me, growing up as a kid, I came from a really supportive family and hockey is what I love to do so I just really didn't focus on that stuff at all. I didn't really care what people had to say about me. I just went to the rink every weekend to play my games and go to practice and had loving teammates along the way too that really helped me out. I just worried about being a hockey player because that's what I am.
People always have something to say and I heard some say, 'you should be playing basketball' or 'what are you doing here' a lot, but again, that stuff didn't really get to me because I know who I am, I'm very confident in who I am so I tried not to let it bug me.
A lot of people ask me about what happened in Kitchener last year during the playoffs and I tell them I don't want to talk about it. It was definitely surprising, especially being 2019. You think the world has taken a big step with all these stereotypes and racial insults but since it's the obvious, I'm a black man playing, I guess, a predominantly white sport, that's how it is. I stand out, it's different. A lot of teams don't have any African-American or African-Canadian players on the team so for me, I'm just kind of taking a big jump and doing something that I'm talented in and I believe in and that's playing hockey.
When the incident in Kitchener became public, I was really appreciative of Shawn Horcoff reaching out to me and the staff of the Detroit Red Wings reaching out to me. It really made me feel comfortable and really loved. Not just my family saying good things about me, it's the team that drafted me, the team that took a chance on me in the draft and wants me to be a part of the future organization. So, it really made me feel nice and really (gave me) comfort.
Though I'm not a Red Wing just yet, you can still sort of see me at Little Caesars Arena. Since it is Black History Month, the Red Wings have a display on the concourse at Little Caesars about the Wings' black hockey players and obviously, me being black, being a part of the organization, they asked me to loan my bow tie that I wore at the draft and my jersey for the showcase. I thought it was a really cool idea to let the fans see a little bit of me and I guess kind of a little tribute to myself, even though I'm not there right now.
Because of the path I've chosen, I am often asked about what advice I'd give to young players, especially black players, and it's very simple, let everyone know you are a hockey player, regardless of what people are going to say, and that you will never give up on your dreams.
In 41 games this season with the Griffins, Smith has three goals, three assists, is minus-3 and has been assessed 40 penalty minutes.