There is a Niagara connection in the Chinese national team that will open the men’s hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics as the host team.
Jeremy Smith, who concluded his Ontario Hockey League career with the Niagara IceDogs in 2009 after four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, is one of the Chinese team’s goaltenders.
The 32-year-old from Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, qualified to compete for the host nation at the 2022 Games after spending the past two seasons playing in the Continental Hockey League with Kunlun Red Star.
Based in Beijing, the team is the only Chinese entry into an elite professional league which has 19 teams in Russia, as well as one in Belarus, Finland, Kazakhstan and Latvia.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Smith has a 3.38 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in Red Star’s 17 games in 2020-21. He held his opponents to 2.63 goals per game and had a .918 save percentage in 32 games in his first season in the KHL.
Smith backed the IceDogs to a 12-9-3 record in 16 games with a 3.18 GAA and .913 save percentage. Niagara went 5-5 in the playoffs with Smith between the pipes.
He was selected by the Nashville Predators in the second round of the 2007 National Hockey League Draft, 54th overall. After four seasons with the Predators, Smith signed two-way contracts with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders.
With the exception of two stints in the ECHL and, more recently, the KHL, most of his professional career has been spent in the American Hockey League. In 2016-17, Smith played in 10 NHL games with the Avalanche going 1-16-1 with a 3.52 GAA and .888 save percentage.
The Olympics will be her second opportunity to compete on the world stage. Smith was a member of the United States team that lost the bronze medal game to Russia at the World Junior Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic in 2008.
At least three other players whose major junior pedigrees include time with the IceDogs made the cut when the Olympic rosters were announced: Sebastian Dahm, G, 2008, Sweden; Josh Ho-Sang, DA, 2015, Canada; Tom Kuhnhackl, RW, 2012, Germany.
Pool games in men’s hockey are scheduled to begin on Wednesday, February 9.
Twelve teams in total compete with action taking place in three pools. Canada, China, Germany and USA are in Group A, Czech Republic, Denmark, Russian Olympic Committee, Switzerland make up Group B while Finland, Latvia, Slovakia and Sweden make up group C.
Russia, then competing in the Olympics in athletics from Russia and now under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee, edged Germany 4-3 in overtime for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics a year ago four years in PyeongChang, South Korea. Canada beat the Czech Republic 6-4 for the bronze medal.