Top Shelf with Tony Uminski 3/10
The NHL trade deadline can be a double-edged sword. Since many fans develop emotional attachments to players, its only natural to hope your favorite player gets to stay right where he is and not have to fill out one of those change-of-address cards.
Last season, Rampage fans were disappointed to learn that one of their favorite players, Colin Smith, was one of those players doffing a new uniform, traded to the Toronto Marlies, along with a fourth-round draft pick (6-6 defenseman Keaton Middleton) for veteran NHL forward Shawn Matthias. What made the deal tougher to take – Matthias went directly to Colorado and played the rest of the season there trying to help the parent club make the NHL playoffs, leaving San Antonio without a player in the deal.
Matthias did score 11 points in 20 games for the Avs before signing this season with Winnipeg, but now those disappointed Smith fans can cheer the return of their favorite son, as the Rampage’s seventh leading scorer last year is back in silver and black.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but once it happened I was really excited about coming back,” said Smith, who scored 13 goals and 34 points in 54 Rampage games in 2015-16. “My good friend Brendan Ranford also got traded (here) so it’s a good opportunity for me.”
Smith enjoyed his time with the highly esteemed Original Six organization, getting a different perspective and experiencing another way of playing the game, scoring 22 points in 23 games helping the Marlies get to the post season, where he added five points in Toronto’s nine-game playoff run.
“There’s a lot of learning and a lot of competition and I think it was really good for my development,” added Smith. “Playing in Toronto – it’s the hockey Mecca of the world -- that’s pretty special too so all-in-all it was good, but everything happens for a reason and I’m just excited to be back and a part of the team.”
One of the reason’s Smith has endeared himself to fans here, Toronto and also Cleveland before coming here with the franchise relocation two years ago, is Smith’s perpetual motion on the ice. Most fans appreciate effort, and Smith rarely, if ever, takes a shift off.
“First and foremost you need to work,” remarked Smith on his playing style. “You need to win those battles and create offense.”
Smith has been creating hockey memories since his early days growing up in Edmonton where he picked up the game at five, playing with family members and friends and eventually getting involved in more serious training into the teen years.
“I was fortunate to have good friends, pushing each other because there’s a lot of good hockey players in the world and I’m thankful for having them around making each other better.”
“I owe everything pretty much to my parents, my brother and sister sacrificed for everybody, whether it be going to summer hockey and paying for that rather than vacation, or your parents have two days off on the weekend and getting up early taking me to practice. It’s nice too for them because they get the rewards of seeing where you can go, trying to be there following your career.”
One of those rewards was playing major junior hockey in Kamloops, British Columbia, nestled between Calgary and Vancouver in the Canadian Rockies for five years, where he ending up scoring 106 points his last season with 41 goals which resulted in his invitation to join the Avalanche organization on draft day.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of high picks or overhyped guys. Everyone was in the same boat as far as ‘I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder’ attitude and wanted to prove they could play. It’s those little intangibles that carry you through.”
An interesting side note to Smith’s return to the Alamo City is his chance to reconnect with another Rampage deadline addition, long-time San Antonio tormentor, Brendan Ranford, hanging his helmet next to Smith again in the locker room.
Ranford and Smith were teammates growing up on youth teams in Edmonton, both played junior hockey in Kamloops and both were chosen in the NHL’s 7th round, Ranford in 2010 to the Philadelphia Flyers and Smith two years later to Colorado. Ranford never signed with the Flyers, but instead used a connection to get a tryout with the Texas Stars, eventually inking a pact with the parent team and a roster spot for four seasons, tormenting the Rampage in the process.
Both players have had their NHL moments as well, with Ranford making his major league debut two years ago with the Stars, while Smith laced them up in Denver against the Montreal Canadians in his first NHL contest.
"I'm so grateful for even that one game. Looking back, having friends and family there to share that with, it's something I’ll definitely never forget. It's what you dream of and what you want to get back to."
When Smith’s Lake Erie Monsters moved south to San Antonio when Colorado replaced Florida as the Rampage’s sponsoring organization, the friendly rivalry with Ranford was renewed.
“There’s always going to be competition that brings out the best in everybody,” said Smith of constantly teaming up with Ranford, nephew of NHL goaltender Bill Ranford. “We were fortunate enough we were on the power play together and you wanted to push each other to see what you could do.”
Now, at the pro level, both players will try and work together to see what they can do at this level, joined by leading scorer Rocco Grimaldi on San Antonio's potentially potent first line. For both Smith and Ranford, the deadline was a good day that brought two good friends together again in San Antonio.
With Detroit Red Wings goalie, Jimmy Howard in town Tuesday for the Grand Rapids 3-0 shutout over the Rampage, the AHL showed fans once again another reason for its existence – rehabilitation opportunities for NHL players coming back from injuries. Howard’s visit also reminded long-time Rampage fans of an epic encounter of two rehabbing NHL masked men on Dec. 1, 2005.
Recovering Phoenix goaltender Brian Boucher was at the AT&T Center along with visiting San Jose Sharks goalie, Vesa Toskala, in the uniform of the Cleveland Barons, then the Sharks AHL affiliate. Perhaps some of the 2,711 Thursday night fans had to wait for the shootout to witness any flashing red lights as both NHL veterans posted shutouts in the 0-0 stalemate! Both got credit for the whitewash, but neither got the win! The Rampage won the shootout, 2-1, as Rampage coach Pat Conacher went to the bullpen with Karl Goehring taking over at the start of the five-shot event to snag the “W.” Tim Jackman and Pascal Rheaume scored for the Rampage, while future San Antonio defenseman, Garrett Stafford bent the twine for Cleveland.
Bonus: Two years ago, defenseman Jesse Blacker’s goal 18 seconds into overtime gave the Rampage a 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Admirals. Brett Olson and Dany Heatley – yes, that Dany Heatley – scored in regulation, while Michael Houser kicked out 33 of 35 Milwaukee shots. Blacker also assisted on Heatley’s goal and played with the Texas Stars last season and now has 34 points in 45 games in Germany this season. Heatley also in his native Germany playing with another Rampage alum, Stephen Reinprecht, had 17 goals for Nuremberg last year before retiring. Olson has 36 points in 35 games in the Austrian League this season after playing in Portland, Maine last season, while you just may see Houser in action this weekend against the Rampage, as he’s up with the Cleveland Monsters after spending most of this season with Cincinnati of the ECHL. Last season, the former San Antonio masked man split the season between the AHL’s Ontario Reign and Manchester Monarchs.
In an odd, upcoming three games in three nights scheduling package, the Rampage host Cleveland Sunday at 3, before heading to Cedar Park for a rare Monday night tilt at the HEB Center before returning home to play the Monsters again on Tuesday night. Usually, the busy three-game sets are Friday, Saturday, Sunday affairs, but for whatever reason, the Rampage have an even more rare Friday-Saturday combination off this weekend.
In Case You Missed It
After a five-game scoreless streak, Rampage leading scorer Rocco Grimaldi scored a goal in three straight games before Howard’s shutout and the California native is fifth in goals on the AHL leader board…since being acquired from Tucson, Brandon Ranford has a goal and two assists in three games with the Rampage…the Ottawa Senators picked up former Rampage defenseman Brandon Gormley this week and assigned him to Binghamton. Gormley played four games here when he was under contract with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010-11 coming out of junior hockey. The former first rounder was picked up by Colorado last season and played 39 games here before signing with the New Jersey organization in the off-season…Taylor Beck, acquired by Colorado last season at the trade deadline, is currently tied for second on the AHL scoring list this season, was dealt again – this time to the New York Rangers. Beck and his 50 points in 40 games with Bakersfield departed the Edmonton Oilers family and joined the Hartford Wolfpack…alum Vinnie Trocheck is up to 22 goals this season for the Florida Panthers, including the game winner with five seconds left in St. Louis last month…it may be the time of the season, but last year, the Rampage were in the midst of an eight-game winless streak…the NHL is thinking about changing the one-timeout rule by not allowing coaches to use their stoppage after an icing call. Many coaches will sacrifice their lone rest period if the game is close and their players have been on the ice for an extended period of time to give them some recovery time before play begins.