Smith Perseveres Through Hard Work
By: Amy Paul
At the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign, Jeremy Smith was unsure of where he would be playing. He began the season with the Cincinnati Cyclones, but quickly saw his spot on Milwaukee’s roster when Admirals’ starter Mark Dekanich was recalled by the Predators.
Upon Dekanich’s reassignment a week later, however, Smith was sent back down to Cincinnati, but would not remain there long, and less than a month into the season he gained a permanent spot on the Admirals squad as a back-up to Dekanich.
Just one year later, Smith has earned his spot as Milwaukee’s number one goalie due to an impressive performance at the end of last season. When Dekanich went down with a season ending injury, he stepped up and led the Admirals to the top of the Western Conference and the second round of the playoffs. The intense pressure of the playoffs was familiar territory for Smith as he earned co-MVP honors with the Cyclones when they won the Kelly Cup in 2010.
“When it comes to the playoffs it’s a totally different game. It’s do or die—win or go home,” Smith said. “Everybody puts everything on the line and that’s my favorite part of the game. I love being put in those situations and that’s when I find my success, stride, and comfort in the net.”
Leading up to his injury, Dekanich was having the best year for a goaltender in team history. He was an AHL All-Star, had the league’s third best goals against average and the top save percentage. But Smith felt little pressure to fill his shoes—instead he was fueled by his success to perform his best.
“When the other guy is having such success that’s good for the team,” Smith said. “When you get in there it’s like habit and you just want to win games. To see him succeeding made me want to succeed as well and when he got hurt, I didn’t really think too much about it. I went out there and played my game and the team played great in front of me.”
Smith saw little time between the pipes during the majority of the regular season, but that had a minimal effect on him and when he became the number one netminder the transition was seamless.
“As a goalie you always want to be ready to go into the net, and you always want to be ready to win games,” Smith said. “You don’t choose when you are going to play, you just always want to be ready and for me that’s what it was. I prepared myself each and every night and whether I got the nod or not, I was always ready.”
The Dearborn, MI native started every game during the Admiral 2011 playoff run and ended the season with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average, which were both the fourth best in franchise history. He spent his summer in Niagara Falls training to ensure he would start right where he left off, and so far he has not disappointed.
“I wanted to keep the ball rolling. I wanted to keep developing and continue the success that I’ve had,” Smith said. “I trained with my junior trainer and we’d wake up at 8 o’clock every morning and get a good workout in that was very goalie specific. I did a lot of yoga. People laugh at that, but it is a very strenuous work out and is something that is very position specific for goalies.”
A high turnover in the offseason is the nature of the beast in the AHL and Smith is one of just eight players returning that suited up for the Admirals last season. In addition to that the Admirals also saw a coaching change, as Lane Lambert moved up to an assistant coaching position with Nashville and Kirk Muller was named new captain of the Admirals ship.
Despite the drastic changes in the team roster, Smith seems comfortable with the young team in front of him.
“There are quite a lot of new faces with this team and with every season you make friends with everyone very quickly because you are together so much,” Smith said. “The thing about hockey is you are a family. This year it’s been really good, we have a good group of guys and the coaches are very knowledgeable. Hopefully we can continue to succeed and improve every day.”
A year has made a world of difference in Smith’s game and he has worked with Nashville’s goaltending coaches Mitch Korn and Ben Vanderklok to refine his technique.
“We have broken down my game and worked on the small details to tweak my game and perfect it,” Smith said. “It’s never going to be perfect but small things every day to make myself better has been key for me.”