Dallas goalie Smith a Tragically Hip figure
Marcie Garcia | NHL.com correspondent
Feb 14, 2008, 11:00 AM EST
Mike Smith would like to voice a complaint. The Dallas Stars’ goalie has a problem with the music selection in the Stars dressing room, presided over by team disc jockey and erstwhile forward, Steve Ott.
“We have the highest-ranked DJs in the League,” Smith insists, “but my only complaint is that he plays one or two songs from the same band over and over again. “Like The Tragically Hip — he’s a Canadian kid — you’d think he’d have a lot of their tracks, but he’s only got like 5 or 6 and he just beats them up. I’m sick of hearing The Tragically Hip because the same songs are on all the time.
“And Justin Timberlake… If I hear SexyBack one more time, I might quit hockey.”
A loud laugh quickly follows. Obviously, Smith isn’t serious about quitting hockey, but he is serious about his music — especially when it comes to his hometown heroes — The Tragically Hip.
Smith, 25, hails from Kingston, the same Ontario town that spawned The Tragically Hip more than two decades ago. The Stars goalie has been obsessed with music since first hearing The Tragically Hip, a band that has picked up as many Juno Awards â€“ Canada’s version of the Grammys — as there are practice pucks.
The Hip — as they’re known by diehard fans â€“ are as big as anything in Canada. They have had several chart-topping albums among their 10 studio release in a recording career that started in 1989. They have hit rock gold with songs like Poets, Blow at High Dough, Fifty Mission Cap, and Wheat Kings. In 2005, they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Smith, a fifth-round choice of Dallas in 2001, was among the legion of fans swept up by the Hip’s unique sound. And it wasn’t long after that when Smith — playing for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves after starting his junior career with the hometown Frontenacs — went out and bought his first guitar, hoping to emulate The Hip and his other rock favorites.
Soon Smith was playing the Pearl Jam’s remake of Last Kiss, and Everclear’s Santa Monica, all the way through, despite only having a couple of formal guitar lessons.
“For Everclear, there was one chord and you just play it through the whole song so it was so easy,” he recalls. “I remember my billets would give me a hard time every time I picked up the guitar because they knew what song I was going to play. I probably beat up one song over and over again until I turned blue in the face.”
Today Smith has gotten ten times better and owns about seven guitars, and even has one that stays on the Stars’ charter plane for extended road trips. His road roommate, left wing Brad Winchester, also plays guitar. Smith says the two enjoy jamming together on the road. Not at home, though, as the two need to be apart, Smith jokes.
And throughout the years, Smith’s love for The Hip has stayed strong. He caught the band last year when they visited Dallas in support of its latest album, World Container. It was the fifth time Smith had seen the band, but the first time he used his cred as an NHLer to get backstage. Smith and several of his Stars teammates spent time hanging out with band members Gord Downie, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay after the show.
It obviously helped that The Hip are die-hard hockey fans who have written and released multiple songs about former hockey players (Bill Barilko and Dan Snyder), and winning the Stanley Cup.
“He’s one of a kind, that guy,” Smith says of Downie, the animated frontman of the band. “Kinda similar to what he’s like on stage. He’s a different cap, but great guy and has a great personality. I know Gord Sinclair a lot better. He’s just down to Earth. You wouldn’t know these guys are rock stars by talking to them.”
Smith says he tries to play guitar everyday while in Dallas, hoping to keep his fingers in shape and keep the calluses up. And though Smith prefers to play The Hip’s earlier releases — like the acoustic-friendly songs, Boots or Hearts and Wheat Kings — he says he tries to play them as much of their catalogue as he can, but sometimes it’s a challenge.
“I try to play my hometown boys when I can, but they’re crazy with the stuff they play,” says Smith, who is also a fan of country music’s Rascal Flatts and Garth Brooks.
Maybe Smith isn’t cut out to be a full-fledged rocker, but he can live out that scenario in the privacy of his Dallas home thanks to Rock Band, the highly popular interactive video game. He even created his very own character after switching from guitar to drumming duties, and plays for as long as 45 minutes, often causing the sore Smith to grab a morning massage at the rink to aid his aching shoulders.
“This is how I look,” he thoroughly explains of his custom-made video character. “My drummer’s bald on the sides with a huge Mohawk wearing a (tee) shirt with ripped jeans. His name is Raw.”
Other bandmates for Infected Cut — the foursome whose gnarly name is the brainchild of none other than Smith — includes his girlfriend, teammate Mike Modano, and Modano’s wife Mandy Williford, better known as Willa Ford on the pop charts.
“What made me upset is that they didn’t have I Wanna Be Bad, by Willa Ford,” jokes Smith. “I was really interested in finding that one.”
On the road, he and a few teammates lug along their Guitar Hero gear for an all-out battle for bragging rights. Smith says he’s mastered Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So, and admits he is one of the better players due to his guitar-playing skills. But, look out, because Ott, the team DJ, can give Smith a run for his money.
“I’d say I’m up there, but Steve Ott is a big gamer so he’s a pretty good,” he says. “But I can take him down when I’m in battle mode.
“I think playing guitar helps because you know the beats of the song and you know how to hold it and how to use your fingers and the pick at the same time,” Smith explains. “When someone picks it up who hasn’t played before they’re kind of thrown off with the timing and of using both hands on different buttons.
“Mo [Mike Modano] was pretty bad, but has gotten better — but he’s still the worst. But at least he’s playing. There are some guys who don’t want to pick it up because they’ll embarrass themselves. Mike’s the worst one who’s picked it up so far.”
Voyeuristic video games are one thing, but hockey is Smith’s real-life challenge where his main objective is to prevent scoring whenever he’s given the nod to step into the goal crease. The Stars, second to Detroit in the Western Conference standings, have two capable goaltenders. So far, in the backup role this year, Smith holds a 11-9-0 record while starter Marty Turco is an impressive 24-11-4 record.
“Weeeell, he’s alright,” Smith laughs as he talks about Turco. “Maybe I feel a little pressure when I get in there, but I think we play similar styles. I want to contribute because I don’t get that chance very often because he’s been playing lights out. Any goalie will tell you when he gets on any kind of a roll like that he wants to be in there all the time and, as of late, he’s been nothing but brilliant.”