Mike Smith’s hair defies conventional description.
“He’s got an S.O.S. pad on his head,” captain Shane Doan said.
With apologies to the Coyotes’ play-along-with-us captain, that analogy no longer applies. Smith’s coiffure outgrew that one months ago. With his longer, current mane, the Coyotes goalie more closely resembles the cartoon character Sid the Science Kid.
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“You should have seen him at our Christmas party,” Doan said. “His hair was as fluffed out as he could make it.”
That didn’t complete the ensemble. Smith was also sporting a memorable sweater Doan said his wife made for him.
“I think it had the head of a reindeer coming out the front, but then he also had the deer coming out the back,” Doan said with reverence. “It was awesome.”
The sweater hasn’t surfaced since, but the locks aren’t going away.
“Not a chance,” said Smith, who shaved his head at the end of last season for cancer awareness and hasn’t cut it since. “The hair is working, so it might as well keep growing.”
Smith has been impenetrable of late, posting his second straight shutout while stopping 28 shots in the Coyotes’ fight-filled, 1-0 win in Los Angeles on Thursday. In his last five games, he’s allowed just three goals while stopping 150 shots.
As of today, we’re through talking about that former Coyotes goalie who now resides in Philly. If you haven’t concluded by now that letting Ilya Bryzgalov walk this summer was a good decision by general manager Don Maloney, you’re probably still under the impression that the president is a Muslim born in Kenya.
Smith’s .927 save percentage is the seventh-best mark in the NHL this season and the fourth-best mark among goalies who have played at least half their teams’ games. Smith is costing the Coyotes far less money (two years, $4 million total) than Bryzgalov is costing the Flyers (nine years, $51 million), and he’s got a feisty streak that was apparent when he went after Kings forward Anze Kopitar after the latter plowed into him with a forearm shiver Thursday night. And Smith is a far better teammate than Bryzgalov, a point driven home by every Coyotes player, including the speak-no-evil captain.
“He goes out of his way to be a good teammate,” Doan said.
Smith’s near-fight Thursday was just the latest example.
“When you look at our group, they’re really engaged,” coach Dave Tippett said. “They’ve got a real chemistry together, and Smitty is a big part of that chemistry. Just like the rest of our group, he’s all in.”
Most teammates even describe Smith as normal — or normal on the goalie continuum, anyway.
“Goalies get type-cast sometimes,” Tippett said. “Some goalies would rather be on their own, but some goalies fit in well in the group, and Smitty is one of those guys.”
It’s hard to find anything with which to pigeon-hole Smith as a loon. He has a pregame routine he follows, but there’s nothing remarkable in that routine, and he doesn’t lose sleep if he forgets something.
He harbors no superstitions. He doesn’t twitch involuntarily like Patrick Roy. He doesn’t vomit and then drink orange juice before games like Glenn Hall. He doesn’t wield his stick like an axe, a la Ron Hextall, and he doesn’t ponder the Milky Way’s insignificance in the greater universe like that goalie we’ve vowed never to mention again.
But then you look at that hair and you wonder: Is everyone telling the truth? So you turn to forward Paul Bissonnette for some straight talk.
“Goalies are weird, and that’s just how it is,” Bissonnette said.
“That’s a lie,” Smith countered. “Everyone says we’re weird but I think it’s the other way around. They’re weird and we’re normal.”
Bissonnette doesn’t buy Smith’s version of reality.
“That’s a pretty interesting way to justify how weird he is,” he said. “That hairdo says it all. That’s got to go. I’m not a big fan.
“Then again, if he keeps playing the way he is, he should grow it as long as wants. Maybe I’ll grow mine, too.”