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Best Defender in Sports Phoenix 2012 - Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

Mike Smith's a big, lanky guy for a goalie — 6-feet-4, 220. The Canadian's wingspan makes him hard to score on, and this was a major reason the Phoenix Coyotes made it to the NHL's Western Conference finals last season. Many believe Smith was the main reason, Coach Dave Tippett and forward Shane Doan aside. Because of his 2.21 "goals-against" average and his .930 save percentage last season, he should have been a shoo-in to win the Vezina Trophy for best goalie, but he wasn't even nominated. This is reminiscent of the longstanding bias against this desert franchise; NHL general managers decide this honor. The Valley repeatedly is derided as the blazing Siberia of NHL hockey. Which means that nobody takes Phoenix that seriously, even in a Pacific Division-title year. Another reason Smith wasn't taken seriously, despite his phenomenal season, was that he came out of nowhere. The season before, he was warming the bench as a backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. But goalies often appear out of the mist at about Smith's age, 30. It takes them a long time to learn their craft. What Mike must do now is have a second star-studded year so that he moves to the top of the goalie pack.

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