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Mike Smith hopes to be top goaltender with Calgary Flames

Calgary Flames netminding newbie Mike Smith is settling into a southwest community, and there have already been several knocks at the door.

Nobody has asked to borrow a cup of sugar.

Only one has hinted at a ticket request.

The folks on Smith’s street, and every other avenue, lane or cul de sac in Calgary and surrounding area, only want saves and wins.

Pretty, pretty please.

“Everybody has been so welcoming so far,” Smith said after Thursday’s medicals and fitness tests at WinSport, the first item on the training-camp itinerary for the 2017-18 Flames. “Just moving in, we’ve been here two weeks and have had numerous neighbours stop over at the house and welcome us to the community and tell us just how excited they are to have us here. I think that makes the transition fairly easy.”

In this city, it’s easy to be a puck-stopper in September.

It’s October, April and every month in between that bring the challenge.

Just ask Brian Elliott.

The welcome-wagon rolled out for Elliott last fall. After allowing a few stinkers in first-round sweep from the Anaheim Ducks, some of his own neighbours might have offered to help him pack up his stuff.

This isn’t Philadelphia, long known as the NHL’s goalie graveyard and now Elliott’s place of employ, but Calgary has been mighty tough on twine-minders ever since Miikka Kiprusoff called it a career.

“I think there is pressure anywhere you play, being a goaltender,” Smith reasoned. “But that’s why I’ve played the position for as long as I have. I enjoy that pressure. Sometimes, you can beat yourself up about it, but I think I’m going to embrace it and face that challenge head-on.”

On Friday, for the first time, Smith will be facing shots as one of the home-siders at the Saddledome.

The Flames will get back to business with three days of practice before Monday’s split-squad exhibitions against the Edmonton Oilers.

This is a change of scenery for the 35-year-old Smith, who originally hails from Kingston, Ont., but has earned his big-league paycheques in the sunny climes of Dallas, Tampa and Glendale, Ariz.

For the past six campaigns, he was the go-to goalie for the Arizona Coyotes.

That first winter in Arizona, he backstopped the Desert Dogs to the Western Conference final.

In five seasons since? Not a sniff of playoff action.

Smith was traded to the Flames in June and enters training camp as the sure-thing starter, with Eddie Lack on board as his backup.

“I think there is expectation here to do well. And that, as an older player, is all you can ask for,” Smith said. “You want to be on a winning team, a winning franchise, and it’s exciting to be a part of a Canadian team that is expected to do well. There is pressure that goes along with that, but I think that pressure is why you play the game and why you want to be in big games and on a winning team, so I’m really pumped about it.

“I think I’ve been around long enough to kind of know what to expect,” Smith added later. “Obviously, I haven’t played in a Canadian market before, but playing against them, you just know what the media is like and what the hype is like around a Canadian team, and I’m excited about that challenge.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to be on a winning team and to be on a Canadian team as a Canadian boy. Growing up in Ontario, I wasn’t necessarily a Flames fan, but I definitely followed all the Canadian teams.

“I know I’m a big Flames fan now.”

So are his neighbours.

If Smith can lead the Saddledome-dwellers to another playoff berth, and preferably past the opening round this time, he’ll be the toast of every block-party and backyard BBQ.

A few knocks on the door, and it’s already obvious the hockey fans in his community have high expectations.

“Very high,” Smith said with a grin. “Like everyone else, I’m sure.”

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

http://www.twitter.com/WesGilbertson

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http://calgaryherald.com/sports/hockey/nhl/calgary-flames/goalie-mike-smith-getting-to-know-neighbours-as-new-guy-for-calgary-flames