By Neate Sager
Givani Smith is constructing a power-winger pipeline that runs along Highway 400 north to Barrie.
As a rough-and-tumble youngster in minor hockey, the Colts’ first-rounder admits he was always “down for a couple minutes in the box because my hits were too hard or I was being too physical.” Now Smith, who will report to Barrie’s camp at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is hoping to replicate the success that fellow Mississauga Senators midget AAA grad and present-day Boston Bruins farmhand Anthony Camara achieved in Barrie.
“I actually feel really honoured to be going to the same organization,” says Smith, whom Barrie chose No. 13 overall in the Ontario Hockey League priority selection draft. “My minor midget coach, Mark Filippone, also coached Anthony Camara. When I was in major bantam [in 2012-13] he would invite Anthony to come out on the ice. I would be amazed that and I would always be asking him questions until I couldn’t take anymore. I’m just amazed I’m going to the same team. It’s a good feeling.
“I’m just trying to do little things right and be that player that guys want on the ice to help win games,” adds Smith, whose older brother, Gemel Smith, signed with the Dallas Stars organization this spring after completing a four-year OHL tenure. “My hands are getting a lot better. I’m proud of that but I have to keep that up.”
Smith and newcomer Roy Radke, who’s entering his 18-year-old season, will be expected to inject some size into Barrie’s forward corps. Make no mistake, Smith embodies much different archetype than his brother. Gemel Smith, more of a finesse player at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, tallied 37 goals last season with Owen Sound and London as he secured a pro contract.
“I’m a lot different,” says Givani Smith. “I’m a power forward, I like to throw the body, throw big hits, I like to control the puck down low and make the right smart play. Sometimes even flashy plays to keep the fans entertained.”
1. Which NHL player(s) do you study closely?
“I watch [Chicago Blackhawks centre] Patrick Kane a lot. It’s always amusing watching him play. But I really like to try to model my game after [the Winnipeg Jets’] Evander Kane.”
2. How much do you think it benefits you that your older brother has been through the league?
“It’s going to help a lot. He tells me about his first year [with Owen Sound]. He just keeps reminding me, ‘even though you were drafted high, you just have to battle hard, anybody can still take your spot. You’re playing against men, not boys anymore.’ It’s just about helping me get ready for this season.”
3. Which opponent are you most looking forward to facing as a rookie?
“I’m actually looking forward to playing with Logan Stanley, who just got drafted to Windsor. It will be fun playing against him. I met him recently and we have a strong bond, it’s always been laughs and fun times when we’re on the ice together.”
4. Apart from your parents, who is one person you really credit for helping you achieve this success?
“Absolutely it’s Bob Thrower. He pretty much started my whole hockey career. He’s a good friend and also a mentor.
“It first started when I was six. My family and I met him when I was in house league. From ages six to 16, his son Eric Thrower and I have almost always been on the same team. He would always pick me up for practice when my dad [Gary Smith] was busy. He’s just always there for me, that’s why he’s such a big part of my life.
5. What do you like to do when you need a mental break from hockey?
“I like to hang out with my friends. We sometimes try learning new things like playing the guitar or do fun challenges to pass time.”
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.