Smithson savours season

As a check-till-ya-drop centre with the Nashville Predators, Jerred Smithson had pretty good success against the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL playoffs.

He’s not about to predict the Canucks’ first Stanley Cup triumph, choosing rather to “sit back and be a fan” as the season comes to a close. The 32-year-old Vernon born and raised all-round good guy said it was tough to call a winner with three teams still alive early Friday afternoon.

Smithson does give the Canucks props for being a very complete hockey team, jumpstarted of course by Henrik and Daniel.

“The Sedins are so dynamic and their (Vancouver’s) depth is huge,” said Smithson, who had 5-8-13 in 82 games to easily surpass the magic 400-game full pension number at 487. “It just goes to show in that last series with San Jose, where losing two pretty good d-men and bringing in two others, it didn’t slow them down one bit. They get goals from everyone and they work hard.”

Smithson, who left home at the tender age of 16 and became a man and solid player in five years of major junior with the Calgary Hitmen, was happy for his summer workout buddy Dan Hamhuis, who has been a rock alongside Kevin Bieksa with the Canucks.

“We’ve seen it before from him. He flew under the radar with (Shea) Weber and (Ryan) Suter getting all the recognition but to see him play so well wasn’t a surprise to us. He works hard in the summer and he deserves all the recognition he’s getting. They’re (Hamhuis/Bieksa) tough to play against.”

A 99-point season and two rounds of playoff hockey created extra excitement in Nashville, where Smithson said hundreds of fans showed up to greet the team at the airport during the post-season.

For Smithson, who figures he played the best hockey of his career in the playoffs, his overtime goal in Game 5 of Nashville’s opening series against the Anaheim Ducks was hoooooge.

I told Jerred I was running downstairs with a basket of laundry when my son Nick, yelled from the living room. “Dad, Smithson scored in overtime.”

Joked Jerred, who is counted on more for clutch face-offs, shot blocking and general energy production: “And you said, ‘Are you sure?’”

The goal came at 1:57 of overtime in a 4-3 win which put the Predators ahead 3-2 in the series. They won Game 6 to advance versus Vancouver.

“I’ve never scored a bigger goal than that. It was a great pass by (Jordan) Tootoo. I was going to the net and I just took a shot. After that, my mind kind of went blank.”

His phone was overloaded with text messages from Vernon that night.

His folks – Bernie and Diane – got to catch him play in the first two games in Vancouver, where he quickly sensed a big-time hockey atmosphere.

“Everything is so magnified playing in the second round and you can really see how passionate the fans in Vancouver are; the support there is unbelievable. It was exciting, but nerve-wracking at the same time.”

Smithson’s season was shut down when he was formally introduced to Raffi Torres in Game 3.

“It wasn’t a dirty hit, but it rang my bell a bit,” said Smithson. “The elbow kind of did me in and I just needed some time. I think I had a concussion in junior when I was 19. It was frustrating not being able to play.”

Smithson talked about “second effort” and “little investments” which helped his line (Nick Spaling was the other winger) and the Predators gain glory in the playoffs. And while critics claim the Preds need a bonafide sniper, Smithson says if everybody chips in a goal or two extra, maybe Nashville beats Vancouver.

On captain Shea Weber, a Sicamous product who Vernon summer resident and Nashville coach Barry Trotz says will be re-signed by the Preds no matter what it takes, Smithson can’t say enough.

“He’s so valuable, on and off the ice. He’s a good community guy like I’m sure he is in Sicamous and Kelowna (Rockets). He’s one of the best in the game. He’s a phenomenal captain. He doesn’t say much, but he leads by example.”

On goalie Pekka Renne, who was fabulous in the playoffs: “He’s a battler and he takes it seriously. He’s been that way ever since we got him.”

Smithson, meanwhile, has replaced Trotz as one of four featured speakers at the Vernon Special Olympics banquet Friday, June 17 at Temptasion Restaurant. Tom Renney of the Oilers, Ernie Gare Jr. of the Rangers and Howie Meeker are the other guest celebrities.