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Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Will a New Partner Help Mike Smith?

Adam Francilia is not a goalie coach by title — he is a trainer who has worked with different NHL skaters — but is likely more known for his work with many NHL goalies. He is a goalie consultant with the San Jose Sharks, but he is free to train and consult with individual goalies.

Francilia’s methods and success led Oilers veteran goaltender, Mike Smith, to partner up with Francilia this off-season.

Yesterday, Kevin Woodley, from In Goal Magazine, and I discussed Smith’s decision to team up with Francilia.

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“Adam has worked with a ton of NHL goaltenders,” said Woodley. “The most famous example is Connor Hellebuyck. He worked with him the first time before he had his first Vezina nomination and continuously throughout. He’s working with Matt Murray and some other NHL veterans. Mike moved back to Kelowna this summer with his family and started working with him.”

What was the reasoning?

“I don’t know if at this point in his career, you are going to see massive changes in Mike Smith,” said Woodley. “There are things he’s done, and done successfully for a long time in how he plays that I don’t think you will make wholesale changes to. I will say the work that Adam does in terms of biomechanics, the physiology of goaltending and balance and tracking and how these things all tie with stance, footwork, and hands and maintaining active hands will fit well with the philosophy of Dustin Schwartz (Oilers goaltending coach). As soon as I heard they were working together I thought this was a good thing for the Edmonton Oilers.

“I don’t think it will be to the point where they ask Mike Smith to re-invent himself, but the positive is that at this stage of his career Smith is open, and seeking change, to try and get better. There are many goalies younger than him, and less established, who have stopped doing that.”

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Smith is always in great shape physically. Commitment and dedication is the main reason he is still in the NHL at 38 years of age. But there has to be a reason he teamed up with Francilia.

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So I asked Woodley: what do you think they will work on?

“It would be easy if they just tell me (laughs),” said Woodley. “My guess is it would be from a balance standpoint. I don’t know if Mike is going to narrow up his stance. To quote Ian Clark (Canucks goalie coach) ‘Too low, too wide and too soon,” is a recipe for disaster as the game goes more east-west.

“I would think you will see it in Smith’s balance. If it is working well he will be more balanced and that will show up maybe in stance, maybe in hand positioning, and where it will show up the most noticeably, my guess would be in the amount of times Mike ends up splayed out on his belly. Because those are tied to those other elements of balance. If you get too wide, if your hands come too far back, you are going to end up…when you react and turn and reach, your balance pitches forward.

“It is the same thing we used to see in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo. They used to call it the Lou flop. It was all tied into the biomechanics in how you move, how you watch the puck, how you let the puck come to you. You either maintain balance longer, or you get extended and the only way to access pucks or to extend further is to allow your body to pitch forward.

“But remember, you don’t want to take the compete out of Mike’s game. Sometimes when you battle you are going to end up in scramble situations, so it’s not like ending up in that position is a bad thing all the time, because he competes like crazy and that is important. I guess it would be more so how soon in a sequence you see him end up in that position,” Woodley said.

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OILERS CONNECTION

Mar 5, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) defends against Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the first period at United Center.

Some wonder how, if at all, does this impact what Smith does with Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz.

“I’m familiar with what Adam does and I think it will do good things for Smitty,” said Schwartz. “His (Francilia) focus on core strength, the extremities of the body and the flexibility in those parts, the core strength for balance…all those things will be beneficial to allowing Smitty to maybe adjust his posture and stance just to keep him a bit more mobile, and like you said, off his stomach a bit. I know goalies Adam has worked with in the past, and I’ve coached them and they all speak very highly of Adam.”

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Schwartz has no qualms or concerns about Smith, or any of his goalies, working with a new trainer or even a goalie coach in the off-season. He sees it only as a positive.

“I give Mike credit for being open to new ideas at 38 and trying to help extend his career and become better. Mike is a great example for younger players, and any of us in society, that improving never ends. We should always be looking to improve,” he said.

I’ve learned a lot about the goalie position the past few years in my weekly conversation with Woodley on TSN 1260. There is so much more that goes into being a goalie than I think most of us non-goalies realize. Remember that Mikko Koskinen’s glove hand was a hot topic. Turns out it wasn’t simply his glove hand, but more being inefficient in his positioning and stance that put him in bad positions where his glove side became exposed.

We saw big improvements in that area last year with Koskinen, and when the season begins I’m curious to see if Smith’s connection with Francilia will reduce the time he spends on his stomach. As Woodley said, it’s not to eliminate it completely, because being aggressive is how Smith has stayed in the league this long, but simply reduce those situations.

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