Gouge him. Slash him. Poke him in the eye. That's not the way to make a hockey player cry.

But put him in a parking lot, on the way to the minors? Make him stare at an NHL arena where he's no longer welcome?

Works every time.

"It's the feeling that no one wants you," Coyotes star Mike Smith said. "I remember sitting in the parking lot of the St. Pete Times Forum, calling my parents and sobbing on the phone. I thought it was over."

Over?

It seems preposterous now. Some 15 months later, Smith is one of four goaltenders left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. His ascent in 2011-12 is one of hockey's better Cinderella stories. He is the top goalie in the NHL not nominated for the Vezina Trophy.

He has a growing reputation inside the game. He is fast becoming an Arizona fan favorite, hearing adulation and praise and things he's never heard.

How do you think that sounds to a guy who was looking for a job last summer? A guy nobody wanted?

"I'd be lying to say I don't hear some of it," Smith said. "It is how you treat it and how you approach it that means the most. I've waited my whole life for this opportunity, so I'm not going to throw it away by letting it get to my head."