From: Ryan Stanzel
Director of Communications
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
713.361.7930 (Direct Line)
Photos by Bob Levey
Goalies different, but Aeros wouldn't have it any other way
HOUSTON, Texas Apparently, not only do opposites attract, but they make one heck of a goalie tandem.
The play of rookie Josh Harding, 20, and 22-year-old Mike Smith is one of the main reasons the Aeros are off to a 7-4-4-1 start and in second place in the West Division.
There are subtle differences, and also ones that are obvious by watching their games.
For starters, Harding is under contract with the Minnesota Wild, and Smith with the Dallas Stars. Harding catches with his right hand, while Smith wears the mitt on the traditional left hand. Harding is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, by no means small until he stands next to the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Smith.
Smith and his shaggy blonde hair can be seen around town in a Harley Davidson Edition F-250 pickup, while Harding is in an Escalade. Smith is a bit on the hyper and anxious side, and the soft-spoken Harding goes with the flow. Smiths from Eastern Canada (Ontario), Harding from out West (Saskatchewan).
Smith lists Tragically Hip as his favorite musical artist and he likes fishing, boating and playing the guitar. For Harding, its Tim McGraw, golf and basketball.
On the ice is where they perhaps differ the most. Hardings form is near flawless, ranging from post-to-post and barely leaving his crease. Smith, on the other hand, models himself after Patrick Roy and the butterfly style. He isnt afraid to play the puck and scored a goal in his first pro game in 2002.
Mike Smith prides himself in his puckhandling
Its all added up to a great start, as the goalies have combined for three shutouts in 13 games.
The differences are healthy, said Aeros head coach Todd McLellan. I think if they were both the same, theyd be nervous at the same time, upset at the same time. They have the same personalities, just a different way of approaching the game. They are rubbing off on each other and have become a real good tandem. Also depending on who is back there, the way we play our game is different. One is a tremendous puck mover (Smith), the other more cautious. Our game differs from night to night, and its good to have that variance.
Harding and Smith alternated starts until last weekend, as Harding got two straight starts in Grand Rapids while Smith, who gave up three goals on six shots earlier in the week in Worcester, was saved for Sundays home game versus Syracuse.
Josh played very well in the first game, said McLellan. We knew it was a three-in-three situation and Josh was going to play two games and Smitty one. Instead of sticking to the rotation we broke it for Josh to again play in a rink he had just played well in. It was a bit of a hunch.
McLellan may want to take his next hunch to Las Vegas. The rookies second start versus the Griffins was a 40-save, 1-0 shutout in the second game Saturday, just Houstons second road 1-0 victory in team history.
Josh Harding likes to stay closer to home
Harding (3-4-1, 1.89 goals against average), though, gave most of the credit to his teammates. ---HOUSTON AEROS, BE A FAN---
Whatever I did was the right thing, he said. I give a lot of credit to the team, because they battled hard for me. It just seems like we are clicking as a team and we are on a roll and hopefully we can keep it going.
When you can see pretty well every puck that comes up to you, you have a good chance of stopping it, added Harding. (The defensemen) clear the bodies in front of the net...Things that the fans dont see like clearing up the rebounds if I make a mistake with a rebound. They just get it out of the way and keep all the shots from the outside. It is a lot easier if that happens.
Harding made a trio extraordinary saves in the game, including a breakaway by Kory Karlander.
It is a weird feeling in your stomach, said Harding, who called his girlfriend to celebrate his first winning shutout. He was credited with a shutout in a 1-0 shootout loss to Hartford earlier last week. In junior you can get away with guys in a breakaway because they really dont have too many moves. You come here and it seems like everybody can score, it doesnt matter if you are a fighter or a goal scorer. Once he was coming down I knew he was going to make a move. Then he shot and lucky enough I got a glove on it.
The change in routine also jump-started Smith (4-1-0, 3.11 goals against average), who has a better record than Harding but was pulled in two of his first five starts. Smith came out with a vengeance Sunday, making 32 saves in a 3-0 win over Syracuse, as Houston had different goalies record back-to-back shutouts for the second time in team history.
Sometimes when a routine sets in with a player or anyone at work, you go with the flow, said McLellan. We felt breaking the routine may help him. The results certainly suggested it did.
Its big for my self confidence, said Smith. Ive been struggling here lately but the boys have bailed me out a couple of times. Im the older of the two guys and I feel like I should be leading the way.
Smith said a recent visit with Stars goaltending coach Andy Moog has helped his focus.
I called (Moog) before the Worcester game because I didnt feel like I was focusing, he said. He just told me to relax and find something to do between whistles.
Weve got a great team here. I was used to sometimes facing 45 or 50 shots in Utah, said Smith, who made 48 saves against the Aeros as a member of the Utah Grizzlies last October. Its definitely a different experience.
At this state, irregardless of the type of game hes in, he has to find a way to find that focus, added McLellan. We can discuss those situations, 10 shots or 50 a night, but he has to maintain that focus and level throughout the whole 60 minutes. A lot of that is mental. Andy Moog helped him with it. We expect, and Smitty expects, the results as time goes on.
It also hasnt all been rosy for Harding, who lost his first three starts.
Joshs bumps if you want to call them that were that its a new world, said McLellan. The game is happening quicker than in junior. It was nerves. He had to get over that initial phase of playing the pro game. Now, hes relaxed and adjusted to the environment. The first two games you could see he was a bit jittery.
Both goalies seem to have good heads on their shoulders despite their youth.
When you have a game like (Saturday), you can realize it that night and have fun with it, but the next day is another day, said Harding. You have to look at it that way or otherwise you will get caught up in all the glory. Just because you play one good game doesnt mean that much in this league. You have to consistently bring your game to the ice and hopefully good things happen. You forget about it the day after and concentrate on the next game.