The smile looked familiar, but I had to do a double-take in the dressing room the other day when Ladislav Smid walked in with his equipment bag slung over his shoulder.
As jacked as he looked with those ridiculously big guns hanging out of his shirt where most people have arms, Smid could have passed for Russian bad guy Ivan Drago from Rocky IV if you’d have thrown in some peroxide and one of those Vanilla Ice-style flat top haircuts.
Instead of muttering “I must break you,” as Drago did, Smid happily sat down for a few minutes to answer questions — the most obvious one, given the ripped upper-body the 22-year-old Czech is boasting these days, would start with, “Laddy, WTF… ?”
Smid, who began the 2007–08 season listed at six-foot-three and 204 pounds in the Edmonton Oilers media guide, is today walking around at 225 pounds — none of it put on using media pilates, otherwise known as the buffet table.
It turns out a summer spent doing rehab on his right knee after having arthroscopic surgery to repair meniscus damage ended up with him hitting the iron in the gym big time.
“The doctor told me to do some upper-body work,” explains Smid of a regimen that clearly included lifted everything he could get his mitts on. “I couldn’t really do my legs for like a month-and-a-half. I feel good.”
Smid, a bit of a pencil-neck when he arrived with Joffrey Lupul as part of the Chris Pronger trade in July 2006, stands to be considerably more persuasive in those goalmouth shoving matches and post-whistle scrums he favours from now on.
With the size and strength to back-up the aggression he’s shown in the past, Smid’s giving himself a chance to make an impression on a blueline that’s considerably deeper than when he arrived.
One look at the roster, which includes Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Denis Grebeshkov, Tom Gilbert, Steve Staios and newly acquired Jason Strudwick, and it’s obvious Smid is going to need every edge he can get to stick in the top six.
It’s equally apparent the Oilers have plenty of puck-movers in Souray, Visnovsky, Grebeshkov and Gilbert. What coach Craig MacTavish needs is, as Lowetide put it in his blog recently, a Charlie Huddy — a reliable rearguard who’ll take care of business in his own end.
Keep ‘em honest
“I’m more like a defensive guy,” Smid said. “I’m going to try to stay aggressive and be physical. That’s all I can do because I think we have enough skilled guys on the back end. We need some guys to be physical, too. Not just Stevie and Shelly.”
Having scored 0-4-4 in 65 games last season and with just 3-11-14 in 142 NHL games, Smid hasn’t shown many flashes of offensive flair. Then again, with him yet to blow out 23 candles on the cake, we’re not looking at a finished product.
I’ll give Smid credit, though. If he’s smart enough to look at the personnel here now, realize where he has to fit and determined enough to put in the work in the gym, it’s all good.
Of course, pushing all that iron won’t make him more reliable. As mistake-prone as he’s been at times — Smid is a minus-31 in those 142 games after going minus-15 last season — there’s work to do.
Still, if Smid can be a third-pairing guy and play 15-17 minutes a night, cut down the mistakes and be even more of a menace to opposing forwards in front of Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson, it’ll be a step forward.
“You have to show them you’re not scared,” smiles Smid, talking about his habit of getting into — usually starting, the truth be told — goal-crease skirmishes and the your-momma stuff after the whistle.
“Next time, they’re going to think about it if they’re going to go in front of the net or not. You have to show that it’s going to be tough for them.”
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.