May 12, 2012
Quick, Smith share minor-league bond
By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
GLENDALE, ARIZ. - Okay, so there are comparisons.
And then there are comparisons.
In the Western Conference final, there’s not much to choose from between the goaltenders, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Despite playing contrasting styles, they are each the biggest reasons why their teams have advanced to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and both of them have to be considered top contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the post-season.
They are 1-2 in save percentage among the surviving goaltenders in the Stanley Cup tournament.
But the two of them share a unique link going back to their earliest days as professionals.
They both earned shutouts in their first wins as professionals in the East Coast Hockey League: Smith with the Lexington Men O’ War in October 2002 and Quick with the Reading Royals five years later.
What makes the story even better in connecting the two is they both were credited with goals in their first professional wins as well.
Given how stingy both the Kings and the Coyotes have been in these playoffs, both teams might need that kind of offensive production from their stoppers.
Smith became the sixth goaltender in ECHL history to score a goal when he flipped the puck out of the Lexington zone against Dayton, landing it in the centre ice dot and sliding it the rest of the way into the net.
In Quick’s case, playing against Pensacola, somebody on the other team rolled the puck back into their own net and since Quick was the last player to touch the puck, so he was credited with the unassisted goal.
The connection came up Saturday as both teams practised at Jobing.com Arena in preparation for Game One of the Western Conference final Sunday (5 pm. EDT).
It was first brought up to Smith that he had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist and fight) in that game.
“No. False information. I scored. I got a shutout and a win, but I never got in a fight. The Gordie Howe hat trick is out,” he said. “I don’t like to fight.”
Smith remembered that goal in the ECHL, both the good and the bad of it.
“Oh, yeah. Tough to forget,” he said. “The bad thing is, once you score once, you want more, so ... that feeling of obviously scoring when you’re a goaltender is like nothing else, but it can work against you, too.
"You’re only thinking about it when their goalie’s out. The number one job is to keep the puck out of my end. If it does go in the other end, that’s great, too.”
Quick was fast to point out his goal was a fluke.
“I think he has more of a realistic chance of doing it than I do,” he said. “My only chance is it’s the same situation. I don’t even know if I can get it to the other end. For him, it’s pretty realistic. He can play the puck pretty well. No itch. Just trying to stop the puck, that’s it.”
Smith, whose ability to handle the puck will be even more important in this series against the forecheck of the big Kings forwards, tried to score in the last round against the Nashville Predators as Game 5 wound down, the Coyotes were up by a goal and the Predators’ net was empty. He missed and the faceoff came back into the Phoenix zone with a couple of seconds left in the game. Coyotes centre Antoine Vermette won the draw and there was no harm done.
This has the makings of a good series between division rivals, backed by two goaltenders that have been the top stories of the playoffs.
The Coyotes beat Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks and then Vezina-finalist Pekka Rinne of the Predators in the second round. Phoenix defenceman Keith Yandle said they’re confident they can take down another Vezina finalist in Quick.
“Yeah, we faced two good goalies so far with Crawford and Rinne. We’ve been able to solve them,” he said. “We know Quick is a good goalie, great goalie, playing well. We’ve got more confidence in our netminder than theirs.”
Said Coyotes captain Shane Doan of Yandle’s comment: “And he’s friends with Quick.”
No time for friendships now.