The only thing that is ordinary about Brandon Smith is his last name.

The only thing that is ordinary about Brandon Smith is his last name.

“Brandon has been a difference maker for this team,” Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman said when asked about the second-year forward who signed with the team on Dec. 10.

“We knew what we wanted to get from Brandon, but we weren’t sure if we would get it. We had talked to him in the summer, because we needed someone to fill that role of a versatile player who could help us both offensively and defensively – like Derek Pallardy had done the past two seasons.

“When Derek lost out in a numbers game in camp, we kept Brandon in the back of our mind.”

Smith played his rookie season for the Rio Grande Killer Bees, but he didn’t make it out of the CHL team’s camp this past preseason.

“I sat around and waited for the phone to ring, and it never did,” said Smith, who scored the game-winning goals in the Mavericks’ 5-4 Saturday night win over Tulsa and their 3-2 playoff win over Evansville Wednesday night at the Independence Events Center.

“Then I got a call to play in Fayetteville (North Carolina), for the FireAntz (in the Southern Professional Hockey League). I wanted to play hockey, so I went down to play hoping that someone would notice me.”

Hillman saw Smith’s name and gave him a call.

“We needed someone to give the team some energy,” Hillman said as the Mavericks prepared to board the bus for Evansville, where they will meet the IceMen tonight in the second game of their best-of-seven series.

“There were no promises. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were thrilled when he came here. He got into a fight in his first game, which showed us how much his new team meant to him. The team’s energy level rose the minute he got here and now, he’s the glue, the mortar that keeps the team together.”

While fans bemoaned the departure of many players during the team’s early struggles, Hillman said that period made his team stronger.

“When we struggled early, we knew we had to make some changes,” Hillman said. “No one liked to go through that struggle, but look at the new players we added – impact players like Smith, (Patrick) Schaffer, (Kris) Hogg, (Tristan) Llewellyn – our roster is as strong right now as we have had in the three years I’ve coached this team.”

When Smith arrived on the scene, hoping to last through the weekend, the Mavericks were 10-9-2.
They finished the regular season with a 39-21-6 mark and ended with four wins in a row.

“When I signed, I thought I would be lucky to be here for a weekend,” said Smith, who played college hockey with goaltender Charlie Effinger at the University of Miami (Ohio).

“I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew that I was going to give it my best shot and do everything I could to stick with the team.”

While Smith proved to be a gritty competitor, nothing could prepare the Pepper Pike, Ohio, native for his late-season heroics.

“I’m not the guy who scores game-winning goals,” Smith said, grinning. “Guys like (Sebastien) Thinel and (Ed) McGrane score the big goals. They make those goals where everyone goes, ‘Wow!’ I don’t have those clubs in my bag. I’m a grinder, and lately, the shots have been finding the back of the net.”

In Friday’s 5-3 playoff-clinching victory over Bloomington, Smith scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period.

“I kind of see myself as a glue guy, a guy who tries to hold the team together,” Smith said, “not the guy who scores the game-winners. I’d trade every goal I’ve scored this season for a championship. All I want to do is win – all any of us want to do is win – and that’s why we’ve been so successful since January.”

As Smith talks about his season, team president and general manager Brent Thiessen walks into the locker room.

“That transaction really paid dividends,” Thiessen said when asked about Smith. “He came here with three days worth of clothes and never left. He’s as good a guy off the ice as he is a good player on the ice.

“He’s the type of guy you want your daughter to marry. And no one has scored bigger goals for this team the past week than Brandon.”

There are moments when Smith is simply overwhelmed by the way this season has unfolded.

“It’s hard to believe sometimes,” Smith said. “All I ever wanted was an opportunity, because I knew I would make the most of it.”

He pauses for a moment, and adds, “But it is nice to call my mom to tell her I scored the game-winning goal. Those are the phone calls you really look forward to making.”