CALGARY, AB -- Admittedly, it’s taken Ladislav Smid some time to get comfortable in Calgary.
After getting over the initial shock of being traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Calgary Flames in early November, Smid has hit his stride since returning from representing the Czech Republic at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“I think everything is syncing in,” Smid said. “It’s hard to make a transition from one team to the other after so many years there. I think finally, it seems like for me personally I feel more comfortable with the puck, more comfortable with the system and not afraid to close out the gap and finish the checks.
"When I got here, I was more tentative. That’s not my game.”
It’s not hard to determine what is Smid’s game.
The 6-foot-3, 209-pound defenseman sits 28th in the NHL in hits with 177, split between his tenure with Edmonton and Calgary. He’s thrown the body 125 times as a member of the Flames specifically.
“I don’t think we can ask him to be more physical,” coach Bob Hartley said of Smid, who is also fifth in the League with 159 shot blocks. “We’re always telling him, ‘play your game, play your game’. He seems to enjoy that style and he’s very effective in our system.”
It’s been a fight for Smid, though.
After spending parts of eight seasons with the Oilers -- the only team in the League he’d known to that point -- Smid joined the Flames.
Though he has plenty of experience playing under new head coaches -- Dallas Eakins was his fifth in Edmonton -- the adaptation to Hartley’s system was one he didn’t immediately grasp.
“It’s hard. Even though I had so many different coaches in Edmonton, you still play kind of a similar system,” said Smid, who also played under Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Ralph Krueger during his Oilers tenure. “You can’t be a new coach and bring a totally different system. You have a bunch of guys who are used to something.
“I came here and here’s a totally different system then what I was used to, but no excuses. You have to deal with that. You get paid well. You’re a professional. You have to deal with that but for sure I feel more comfortable.”
It’s no coincidence that comfort has started to settle in since helping the Czechs to a sixth-place finish in Sochi.
The boost of the best-on-best tournament gave the 28-year-old a jolt in the confidence department, Hartley believes.
“I think that playing in the Olympics can be an unbelievable experience,” he said. “I think it’s a great learning experience and for your confidence, I don’t think it can do anything but increase it.”
Smid didn’t disagree.
“For sure it helped me,” he said. “I played a bigger role on that team. I got lots of ice time. You get to play against the best players and I felt really comfortable playing with Marek Zidlicky there. It was awesome, a great experience.”
He’s parlayed his time in Sochi into an impressive run with the Flames.
Only three times in the 12 games since returning from the Olympics has Smid been a minus player. He’s also been ornery of late with 27 hits in his past five contests.
He’s done it all while mentoring rookie partner Tyler Wotherspoon, too.
“He’s still a younger guy so we have to talk to each other,” Smid said. “I’m trying to help him, talk to him a lot on and off the ice and help him make the transition. So far, I think he’s been so good. Now and then, you’re going to make mistakes. The big thing is to move on. Everybody makes mistakes, me, the best players in the world. He has to get it into his head.
“I feel like he’s playing more and more confident.”
Smid too, as he hits his stride in Calgary.
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