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Jeremy Smith Gives China's Olympic Hockey Team a Fighting Chance

Born in Michigan, Jeremy Smith was tasked with being China's goaltender for its first Olympic Games. The road hasn't been easy, but he's doing everything in his power to give his team a chance, even when the odds are so out of his favor.
Jeremy Smith

The list of NHL alumni from Dearborn, Michigan is a short one. 

According to Elite Prospects, just eight players have come from the city with a population of around 100,000. Brian Rafalski is by far the most popular. 

The list of Dearborn natives to represent China internationally? Just one. Jeremy Smith, or Shimisi Jieruimi as he's known with the national team.

China's roster at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games is one that has garnered a lot of attention for its, let's say, interesting approach to roster building. China went the same route that Italy and South Korea have in recent Olympic tournaments by poaching players from other nations and bringing them into the national team program by meeting the IIHF's eligibility requirements. 

China's challenge was a bit more difficult. Unlike Italy, which gathered players with Italian heritage, China had to find some players that were willing to spend the time with the Kunlun Red Star KHL program that has consistently finished at the bottom of the standings to fulfill the conditions to play. Smith gained citizenship in China after playing three years with Kunlun and was deemed eligible to represent the nation internationally.

And so, the legend of Shimisi Jieruimi is underway.

China needed all the help it could get to avoid being embarrassed on the international stage. As the 32nd-ranked team in IIHF competition, China's struggles were evident heading in. Pengfei Han, Kunlun's only Chinese-born goaltender has just one KHL game to his credit and posted an incredible 0-19-0 record with an 8.23 GAA in the third league in Czechia. Among the different nationalities on China's roster are 11 Canadians, three Americans and one Russian. 

Smith, a former NHL goaltender with the Colorado Avalance and the starting goalie with USA's 2007 World Junior Championship team, was willing to take on the task of leading the ultimate underdogs. For reference, seven skaters on the Chinese national team from the 2019 Division IIA World Championship - the last event they played in featuring a full Chinese-based team - have played in the KHL. Rudi Ying is the only one to register a point with two goals in 47 games.

Kunlun finished dead last in the KHL with just seven wins in 48 games, but that was hardly Smith's fault. He mainly shared the net with Russian Alexander Lazushin, but the focus was always on making Smith the guy for Beijing. 

Smith's first game with China was an 8-0 loss to his home nation, the United States. It went exactly as anyone would expect, with a young and hungry American roster controlling the game from start to finish. Smith faced 55 shots and turned away 47 of them in what essentially turned out to be a full-on practice session with the Americans pelting Smith any chance they can get. At some point, there just isn't much more you can do.

But Smith's performance in a 3-2 loss to Germany on Saturday was spectacular, with his 35 saves keeping China in a game that essentially looked over after the first period. Smith is no stranger to being busy, facing 45-plus shots eight times in 25 KHL games this season, including five 50-plus shot nights. 

China's other two goalies, Han and Paris O'Brien (Yongli Ouban), played in just nine games this season with just one win between them. Under most circumstances, neither are truly KHL-caliber goaltenders, so it wouldn't be an ideal situation for China for either of them to play. So as China continues against Canada and later on in the qualification round, Smith will need to continue his workhorse nature if China is going to find a way to shock the hockey world - something they vowed to do before taking the opening faceoff against the United States.

Can they do it? It's unlikely, especially against Canada. But China could luck out with its qualification round opponent and, like they did against Germany, cause some headaches along the way. If Smith continues to carry the heavy workload, an upset might not be the craziest thing in the world.

That's unlikely, but China has the man they can rely on to give them a fighting chance each time they hit the ice. The odds are completely stacked the wrong way, but if anyone can help orchestrate a miracle, it's the 32-year-old from Michigan.

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