Growing up in the Toronto neighbourhood of Mimico, Brendan and Reilly Smith never played organized hockey together. Just everything else.
“We were always playing mini sticks or road hockey or shinny on the ice out on the rink, stuff like that,” Brendan Smith said. “We were always playing with or against each other.”
Inevitably, one-on-one games in the basement would get heated. If it was last goal wins, Reilly said Brendan would often make sure they kept playing until he scored it.
It won’t be that easy this time as Brendan’s Detroit Red Wings meet Reilly’s Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’ve met in the regular season, but this was a matchup the brothers and their parents were hoping to avoid.
“We don’t like when they’re against each other,” mother Deidre said on HBO’s “24/7” program. “We like it when they’re against other people.”
When the Red Wings were making their wild-card run last month, Reilly told Brendan to keep racking up the points to get the first spot and a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins instead of his Bruins.
“He told me he doesn’t want to see that,” Brendan recalled. “He doesn’t want to see that in the first round because he thinks we play really well against them. I think we match up decently well against Boston. I think we match up better against them than Pittsburgh.”
Reilly didn’t get his wish, as the Bruins and Red Wings are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1957. Game 1 is Friday night in Boston. That was 30 years before Lester and Deidre Smith started having kids, and now they have to witness their sons playing against each other.
“They’ll probably be wearing a jersey sewed down the middle with Boston and Detroit,” Reilly told reporters in Wilmington, Mass., as quoted by the Boston Globe. “Maybe my mom won’t wear it, it’s definitely a fashion statement. But I don’t think my dad will worry too much.”
The Red Wings won three of four meetings with the Bruins this season, including April 2 in Detroit to snap Boston’s streak of 16 games without a regulation loss. Reilly had an assist in each of those games, while Brendan went without a point the three times he played against Boston.
“When Boston plays Detroit, we root for both of them to play well,” father Lester said on “24/7” in December. “But it’s fun.”
It’s much more fun for the brothers to watch and help each other now that they’ve reached the NHL. Brendan said he and Reilly talk every day during the season, sometimes for confidence-boosting purposes.
“I talk to him about things, things that are going wrong with him, if he’s on a cold streak. We can both help each other,” Brendan said. “We’re always talking. I think it’s good for me and I think it’s good for both of us is that we understand. We’re both in the same profession and we know what it’s like on a day-in, day-out basis, so we can help each other and maybe if things aren’t going well crack a smile on each other. It’s a good relationship.”
Brendan, at 25 the middle of three brothers with professional lacrosse player Rory the oldest, is Reilly’s biggest supporter. He didn’t quite agree that Reilly turned out to be the best return from Bruins’ trade that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars—because Loui Eriksson is really good—but he expected the 23-year-old forward to thrive.
“I think he’s been the most shock-and-awe factor in that trade that nobody saw that (was going) to happen,” Brendan said. “We did as a family, and a lot of people that have seen Reilly in previous years in college and St. Mike’s, they knew who Reilly was.”
All Reilly needed, according to his brother, was an opportunity to play with better linemates. Getting that chance, eventually on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Reilly broke out with 20 goals and 31 assists for a career-high 51 points.
“He never really got that great of a chance with Dallas on the fourth line (where) it’s hard to produce when you’re a skill player,” Brendan said. “Once he got into a system where he’s starting to play with high-production players, obviously he jumped off the page.”
Reilly’s stats at the start to his Bruins tenure certainly jumped off the page. After just three goals and six assists in 37 games with the Stars last season, he had 30 points in his first 38 games for Boston.
“It’s kind of interesting to watch it and for me to follow it. Reilly came out flying, he was really hot and then it became Marchand and now it’s Bergeron,” Brendan said. “It’s like they’re all taking their turn to get that limelight. … It’s a good line and it’s impressive to see that Reilly’s done so well.”
Even though Reilly went cold late in the season, he still finished sixth on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins in scoring. He credited captain Zdeno Chara and others for the fact he was able to integrate so well into an established group.
“I think it comes down to the leadership on this team,” Reilly said. “From management down, it seems like, for me at least being a new player joining this system, the structure was there. They just kind of throw you into it. It doesn’t really matter who it is, someone’s always trying to help you out and make your game easier and help you be more successful. “
That a couple of hockey players from Mimico found success isn’t surprising, considering Brendan Shanahan, David Clarkson, Dave Bolland and others came out of there. Two from the same family, Brendan said, is a testament to their parents.
“The drive and all they’ve done for us and how they’ve brought us up from young guys, I think that’s the main reason why we’ve been successful,” he said. “We always wanted to be professional and play in the NHL and we were fortunate to do that. And I think that’s something our parents instilled in us was that drive.”
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Note to readers: CORRECTS spelling of mother’s name Deidre, sted Diedre