Givani Smith received the best gift of all from his older brother Gemel Smith over the Christmas holidays – the gift of confidence and perspective. And the younger Smith is hoping to put that renewed attitude to good use for the rest of the year.
The pressure of this being Smith’s draft-eligible year was getting to him, Givani Smith said – and his older brother helped calm some of his nerves.
“It did at the beginning of the season. I say [the pressure impacted me]. Now I’m just trying to embrace it and play a lot more comfortable,” Smith said. “At Christmas break, me and my brother both came home for a few days and we were talking more about it. He was telling me stuff like if I do get drafted in the second round or even the sixth round, it doesn’t really matter. Just getting drafted is good. You can then make your way there at training camp or rookie camp.”
And it’s a pressure that Smith said he knows isn’t going away, so he might as well make it work for him.
“It’s something I embrace. It gets to a point where you know there’s going to be scouts at every game, whether you win or you lose. They’re always there watching you,” Smith said. “There’s always someone watching you at every game, even if it’s friends and family, so you always want to be doing your best
“For me, I think this year has been going all right – it could be better, I guess. But for the team, we had a really rough start – well, a rough half – so we’re trying to change the ending for this second half of the year.”
The biggest advice that his big brother has shared with him? The big brother who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars and who is currently playing with Texas in the AHL. “Don’t believe the hype – good or bad”.
“He’s helped me a lot. He’s been through everything I’m going through now and he’s talked to me a lot about it. Most of his advice has been, ‘Don’t go on social media and read what people are writing about you.’ Play your game; if you play a good game, you’ll be rewarded in the end,’” he said. “I have a Twitter account and I know what’s going on, but I try not to pay too much attention to it.
“I don’t really go on blogs and stuff. Occasionally, I check out the draft lists. I’ve recently been checking mock drafts, just to see if I’m on the radar or anything.”
And part of that monitoring of draft lists is keeping tabs on players to whom Smith feels he is comparable.
“Oh yeah. Right away I look for the guys – the ones who are top-10, or top-20, or first round. I’m looking at Max Jones – we’re playing him tonight – and I’m looking at him,” Smith explained. “I always try to compare myself to see what he’s doing. If he’s doing good, then it means that I should be doing good.”
One person he is reluctant to compare himself to is his older brother. The main reason is because they play much different styles.
“I wouldn’t compare myself to Gemel. We talk about it and laugh a lot,” Smith said. “I told him that I’m going to pass him in points, but in his second year with Owen Sound he put up a lot of points and I’m really not a point guy. I’ll just try to get one up on him.”
Gemel scored 21 goals and added 39 assists in his second major junior season. Over the course of four OHL seasons, mainly with the Owen Sound Attack, but with a half-year finale with the London Knights, the older Smith scored 89 goals and added 114 assists for 213 points in 264 games.
This year, Givani has scored 15 goals and added 11 assists in 39 games. In 100 OHL games so far, Givani has scored 22 goals and 45 points.
In a direct comparison, what does the 5’11” Gemel have over Givani?
“Oh for sure, it’s scoring goals – he’s pretty good at doing that,” Smith said.
And what would the 6’1” Givani have a clear advantage of over Gemel?
“My physicality,” he said.
So does that mean that Givani thinks he can take Gemel in the corners? “Oh yeah, for sure!”
Givani said he feels much more at home playing the physical game and added that he knows where he will fit in the future. “I’m a bang, crash, third-line player. That’s where I see myself being most comfortable,” he said.
But circumstances this year with the Guelph Storm have forced him to step up and play a more offensive role – one that he has embraced and had success with.
“I’m sure I look really uncomfortable being seen as a scoring leader on my team. I’m doing whatever I can to help the guys out,” Smith said. “But if I had to go back to my regular role, banging bodies and playing physical, I’m comfortable with that.”
Although he did not see much action in his half season with the Barrie Colts – the team that drafted him in the first round, 13th overall, in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection Draft – he was able to learn from some of the league’s best players. It is an experience that he said has helped him during his tenure with the Storm.
“Last year, for my 30 games I was in Barrie and it was more of me just watching and learning. I didn’t really play much there [Smith accounted for four points in 31 games], so I spent my time learning from Brendan Lemieux, Joseph Blandisi, and Kevin Labanc,” Smith said. “When I got traded to Guelph it was pretty much a fresh start for me, so I thought I’d take what I learned from those guys and apply that to my game in Guelph [where he added seven goals and eight assists in 30 games with the Storm.]”
As Guelph rebuilds, Smith has stepped up to play a major role both on and off the ice – and it’s a role he’s happy to embrace.
“With my team, we have a lot of rookies this year. If I can step up and be someone that they can look up to or come to me with if they need some help, I love to do that,” he said.
Guelph has only won nine games this season, but six of those wins have come since New Year’s Eve, with the team having gone 7-2-1-0 in their last 10 games. And while some teams place a draft premium on those coming from winning programs, Smith said he thinks there are some behaviors that can stand out, even on a team that is struggling to win.
“Oh yeah, for sure. You can bring a good attitude to every game. That’s always noticeable, even on the ice or even if you’re just walking into the changing room,” he said. “But also, just try to win — you also want to keep that winning mentality.
“In the second half, things are going our way we’d like to think. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. Our new coach [Jarred Skalde] is coaching us the right way and we hope we can keep the wins going.”
While he is focused on helping the team win, Smith said he knows that skills development is at a premium for him. “I want to develop my skills. Nowadays it doesn’t matter how big you are – it’s the skill game that’s improving a lot and you have to keep up,” Smith said.
And any last words from his big brother?
“For me, I’d say, don’t really listen to what everyone’s saying,” he said. “At the end of the day, the mock drafts don’t really know what’s going on.”
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