When Bat Masterson, the frontiersman, (and former sports columnist of the New York Morning Telegraph) roamed the American West he wrote many stories and columns and coined a few turns of phrase. One of the terms he used was gunfighter or gunslinger. Masterson was one and soon after it became common knowledge that these folks had to be quick on the draw. With a 50% failure (complete failure) on every draw, it meant that the job didn’t last long and that success followed young hands or experienced eyes.
In hockey, there are folks that think the guy who scores is a gunslinger but truly it is the guy who wins the face off that most accurately represents high noon outside the saloon. Out of the West, (Vernon B.C.) Jerred Smithson found his way off the backyard rink his parents had created from cold temperatures and a commitment to pay the water bill, to become one of the stunning Hitmen of the late nineties. Calgary rode to a huge amount of success during Smithson’s stay.
“I just loved playing. I wanted to go the rink. I wanted to practice, I wanted to play. That was true in the backyard, into Junior, right to the NHL and now.”
Smithson is currently centering two young wingers, the kind that everyone has talked about as part of the Marlie youth movement. His impact is felt keenly.
“He plays a simple game and I think I can speak for Broll, we are big bodies and we need to keep our games simple. He’s a great centreman, I feel fortunate to stay on his line.” Tyler Biggs is honing the game that he hopes will lead him to the same lofty heights achieved by Smithson.
In the AHL, lining up against a NHL quality face-off man plays tricks with your mind. When you have a near 60% success rate in the sport’s best league, like Smithson has, your reputation can cause a stir that either sharpens an opponent’s concentration or destroys it. For Smithson’s line-mates they’re eager to gather the intelligence that can seed doubt in the opposition’s head.
“You’re like a sponge when you play with a guy like him. He’s a quiet guy but steps up when you need it.” David Broll , 20, is fourteen years younger than Smithson, all fourteen years Smithson played pro hockey. In that time, Smithson came to understand the game and the business of being a player.
“Even when I left Nashville, I saw the big picture. I understood that if they felt they needed to change to get better then that’s what they needed. There were never hard feelings. People have to make decisions. It’s a business.” His words are raw and honest and professional.
Playing his way around North America he was a part of some significant moments in some less than traditional hockey markets but he found some genuine passion for the game.
“It is one of my greatest memories…” Smithson refers to his goal that won game five of the Nashville series with the Ducks. Game six was the win that drove the Predators into the next round of the playoffs for the first time. “…along with my first game with the Kings in Colorado…you get over the nerves pretty quick, you have to if you want to survive.”
He now finds himself thriving on ice with the Marlies after a late August hamstring injury put him at odds with any chance for an NHL training camp. So where does he hope to go, what does he hope comes next?
“I still think I’m an NHL quality player. I think I can be valuable at that level.”
Watching him press opponents with his, ‘two big wingers, the way I like it’ and seeing how he can draw back the disc you’d be hard pressed to prove him wrong.
Maybe his showdown at high noon has come. Maybe he finishes out his string right here with the Marlies – and fans of this team can only hope so – or maybe he ends up in Europe. Maybe Jerred Smithson’s experienced eyes haven’t got another NHL game in him but as the old gunslinger Bat Masterson wrote in his final pecks at the typewriter, “Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”