Chinese Import

American Goalie Living Olympic Dream With Chinese Men’s Team

BEIJING – Some may call him a traitor. Others see him as being in the right place at the right time. But no matter what some may think, Jeremy Smith is an Olympian, and he offers no apologies for that.

 

The 32-year from Dearborn, Mich., is competing at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games as a member of the Chinese men’s hockey team, and his first taste of Olympic action comes Thursday against the United States, a team he is obviously very familiar with.

 

“Not many people can say that they played for and against USA. I think I’m part of a small percentage,” said Smith, who is listed on the Chinese roster as Jieruimi Shimisi.

 

“I read a statistic in the last Olympics maybe 170 athletes competed with the country other than the one that they were born. So I’m just another small statistic, but I’m grateful and I’m thankful.”

 

Growing up with USA Hockey, Smith played his youth hockey with Belle Tire and Compuware before moving on to the Plymouth Whalers, which skated out of what is now USA Hockey Arena. He was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the second round of the 2007 NHL Draft. That same year he was awarded the Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award at USA Hockey’s Annual Congress.Jeremy Smith was the recipient of the Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award at the 2007 USA Hockey Annual Congress.Jeremy Smith was the recipient of the Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award at the 2007 USA Hockey Annual Congress.

 

During his time with Plymouth, Smith was tapped to join Team USA at the 2008 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic. While he didn’t see any action in the team’s fourth-place run, he was teammates with future NHL stars James vanRiemsdyk, Max Pacioretty and Kyle Okposo.

 

After bouncing around the AHL with several teams, he finally made his NHL debut in 2016 with the Colorado Avalanche. His 10-game stint wasn’t enough to keep him in the show so he entertained an offer from the Kunlun Red Stars to play in the KHL.

 

“I talked to my wife and family and we decided that was the best move for my career,” he said. “If you’re not in the NHL, I truly believe you want to be in the KHL. So we made the jump and I think it was the best decision at the time.”

 

After his first two years with the Red Stars, most of which was spent in Moscow due to the pandemic, Smith was approached to backstop Team China in the Olympics. He had heard teammates talking about the upcoming Olympics but never thought he could be a part of it.

 

International Ice Hockey Federation rules allow players to represent a country if they’ve spent at least two years living there and playing for the national team. Smith is one of seven Americans to jump at the opportunity, including Jake Chelios, son of four-time U.S. Olympian and NHL icon Chris Chelios.

 

“I think if anybody were in my shoes they would do the same thing,” said Smith, who adorned his mask with his name in Chinese. “Sometimes the pieces just fall into place. It’s a privilege to play hockey for a profession and not everyone can play for as long as I have. So I’m pretty thankful for the opportunity.”

 

While Smith is looking forward to facing off against his compatriots, it is bittersweet not to have a chance to stare down the best of the best of NHL shooters. On one hand, facing the likes of Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, all of whom would have been his Group A competition, would be the challenge of a lifetime. Still, there’s something to be said for not feeling like a mechanical duck in an arcade shooting gallery.Jeremy Smith is expected to see the bulk of the time for Team China at the 2022 Olympics.Jeremy Smith is expected to see the bulk of the time for Team China at the 2022 Olympics.

 

“I played in the NHL and played with and against a lot of those guys so it would’ve been really cool to play against them,” said Smith, who should play the majority of minutes between the pipes for the host nation. “Who knows what would’ve happened. You read a lot of articles and you see a lot of click bait, but who knows. I guess we’ll never find out.”

 

Smith and his wife lived in Beijing for a short period of time and have been able to visit many of the country’s famous tourist sites like the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven and the Hainan Islands near the South China Sea.

 

“The history in China and in Beijing, it’s hard to wrap your head around it because you come from America where it was 1776 when our country was established and Beijing is thousands of years old,” he said. “So the history is beyond comprehension for someone that isn’t here to experience it.”

 

While Chinese isn’t the easiest language to learn, Smith has picked up enough to order food at a restaurant and ask for directions on the street. His native teammates have been welcoming of all the “heritage players” on the roster and willing to help them navigate a foreign culture.

 

“We’ve become a family even though we speak a different language,” Smith said. “I think laughter is something that we all have in common and everyone can share.”

 

That laughter may not last long once the puck drops on the tournament, but Smith and all of his teammates are excited to have the experience of calling themselves Olympians, no matter what the final scores may be.

 

“It never occurred to me that I could be a part of that until this year when it actually came to fruition,” he said. 

 

“China is trying to grow hockey. If you think about Russia and Canada playing against each other for something like 100 years, China is just getting started. It’s a small seed that’s planted and it’s awesome to be a part of.”

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