April 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm

John Niyo

Smith brothers take family feud out of the basement for Red Wings-Bruins series

Kulfan and Niyo on Red Wings-Bruins
Kulfan and Niyo on Red Wings-Bruins: Ted Kulfan and John Niyo of The Detroit News discuss the Red Wings' first-round matchup against the Bruins.

Detroit — One is a rookie, the other a second-year player, but they’ve done this countless times before.

In the basement of their family’s home in Mimico, Ont., Brendan and Reilly Smith staged some epic Stanley Cup Playoff series as kids, with the help of their older brother, Rory.

Problem was, they simply couldn’t crown a champion.

“We never got to Game 7,” Brendan said. “Never.”


“Because there’d be fighting or somebody would get hurt and our parents would have to call it quits,” Brendan explained with a laugh. “He’s really competitive, and so am I. And we don’t like to lose to each other.”

Somebody’s going to lose now, though. And the parents, Lester and Deirdre, won’t have a say in the outcome this time, no matter how physical it gets between Brendan’s Red Wings and Reilly’s Bruins in their first-round Eastern Conference matchup beginning Friday in Boston.

As reunions go, this is about as good as it gets, especially for a family whose life has revolved around sports for the better part of the last two decades.

Brendan, 25, is a former first-round pick playing in the top defense pairing for the Red Wings. Reilly, who turned 23 this month, is a 20-goal scorer for the Bruins, skating on a line with Hart Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron. Chances are, they’ll see plenty of ice time together this series, which only adds to the story line — and tension.

“But you almost throw out the team affiliations and it just becomes them,” said Lester Smith, whose eldest son, 27-year-old Rory, is a rough-and-tumble defender for the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League. “When they play each other, you hope they both play well — you hope Reilly doesn’t burn Brendan, and vice versa — and that’s what it becomes. It’s just them.

“When it comes down to it, we still see little boys on the ice. After all, it’s just a game. It’s a kids’ game. And they’re lucky enough, so far in their life, to keep doing the things they did as children.”

Family bloodbaths

All three Smith brothers grew up playing soccer and lacrosse and hockey. They started out as youth teammates with the Mimico Mountaineers and the Faustina Hockey Club. They moved on to play Junior-A hockey for St. Michael’s, before the younger two headed off to play college hockey in the U.S. — Brendan at Wisconsin, where he earned All-American honors, and Reilly at Miami (Ohio), where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as a junior.

Detroit drafted Brendan, the better skater growing up, in the first round in 2007. Dallas picked Reilly, who always had the best hands, in the third round in 2009.

“He’s always been one of my role models, one of the guys I looked up to and it was pretty easy,” Reilly told the Boston Herald this month.

It’s never easy being the youngest, however.

“I mean, I couldn’t let him beat me as my little brother,” Brendan said.

Which is why those basement games would get so heated. Typically, Rory would end up playing goaltender, while the other two, wielding mini-sticks, went one-on-one trying to score. The backdrop usually was a make-believe Stanley Cup Finals, but the real stake was “pride, more than anything,” Brendan said.

“You’d sneak down and watch ’em, and it’d be intense,” said Lester, who spent the winter flipping between Boston and Detroit games on his NHL Center Ice package. “As soon as it got loud, somebody would be losing it.”

Not even birthday parties would be spared. After cake and ice cream, the games would commence downstairs, guests included.

“But as time went by, one by one, their friends would all come up, either hurt or sniffling or saying. ‘I don’t want to do that anymore,’” Lester said, chuckling.

No one was ever seriously hurt, Brendan insists.

“A lot of chipped teeth and a few scars,” he said, “but nothing too crazy.”

Going the distance

And today, they remain the best of friends, even as opponents.

Brendan and Reilly nearly crossed paths in the Frozen Four here at Ford Field in 2010. (A Miami loss in the NCAA semifinals spoiled it.) But they finally met a few times in the AHL last season, and twice in the NHL after the owners’ lockout ended. They were on the ice three more times this season — Brendan was a healthy scratch for the second meeting in Boston in October — and the elder sibling holds a 3-2 advantage in the NHL series.

They’ve been talking about this playoff possibility for weeks now, with the Bruins locking up the top seed and the Red Wings scrambling to get in. The hope — shared by their parents — was they’d avoid a collision until the conference finals.

Instead, they’ll meet in a few days, with Lester and Deirdre in the stands, and probably for a family dinner this weekend.

“We’ll talk the same amount,” Brendan said, “but probably less about hockey.”

Unless or until one of them just can’t help it. Sometimes, the trash talk is unavoidable.

“Obviously, if he scores the game-winner in Game 7, he’s gonna give it to me,” Brendan said, smiling. “I know he will. I mean, that’s something that will happen.”

But what are the chances of that, he figures.

A Game 7 between the Smith brothers? That’d be a first.



Boston vs. Detroit

Boston vs. Detroit

All games on FSD unless noted

Friday: at Boston, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: at Boston, 3 p.m. NBC

Tuesday, April 22: at Detroit, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 24: at Detroit, 8 p.m.

x-Saturday, April 26: at Boston, 3 p.m. NBC

x-Monday, April 28: at Detroit

x-Wednesday, April 30: at Boston

x-if necessary

Brendan Smith of the Red Wings and Reilly Smith of the Bruins fought through several playoff series as kids, but never to a definitive conclusion. / David Guralnick / Detroit News
Reilly and Brendan Smith on draft day. (Courtesy of the Smith family)
Brendan, Reilly and Rory Smith. (Courtesy of the Smith family)
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