by Lisa Brown on 12/04/11 at 11:30 PM ET
If you were to ask most Oiler fans who their favourite Oiler is, you will likely hear the name Ryan Smyth. If you also ask who they think the team MVP is the answer would likely be the same; Ryan Smyth. In Edmonton people love Ryan Smyth the way Canucks fans love Trevor Linden and Leafs’ fans love Wendel Clark.
Although Ryan Smyth has only been invited to one NHL All Stars game in his life in 2007, Smyth has played for his country on numerous occasions. Smyth was a member of several gold medal winning Team Canadas; World Juniors team in 1995, Winter Olympics Team Canada in 2002, the 2004 World Cup, and the 2003 and 2004 World Championships as well as winning silver in the 2005 World Championships. Smyth is also commonly known not just in Edmonton, but across the country as Captain Canada.
Smyth is an ironman who will leave everything he has on the ice including blood, sweat and teeth. Smyth returned earlier than expected in 2002 following a surgery to his ankle to play with the Oilers as well as Team Canada in the Olympics. And for that, fans young and old love him.
While Smyth was playing his short stint with the New York Islanders, or his seasons with the Colorado Avalanche or even the Los Angeles Kings and his production was not what fans remembered we wanted him back, well a large number of fans wanted him back. Several were still disappointed with the way that Smyth left town and did not care if he returned, but there were still those that felt that Smyth never should have left and that he should retire as an Oiler, the way that it should have happened.
This year, Smyth has found his youth again. I can only attribute this to the young players’ energy rubbing off on Smyth, the way he had hoped it would. I had the opportunity to speak to Smyth before he played his first game as an Oiler (again) in August, and he kept mentioning how hoped to learn as much from the new players and he would teach. “I think it’s a big deal going both ways, it’s a two way street. I think that the experience that I’ve gained over the years can be a big thing and with these young kids pushing the pace and really showing their skill and their energy on a consistent basis it can really rub off on players like myself. I want to be like a sponge. I want to learn every day and I want to provide as much as I’ve been experienced”
Although Smyth didn’t seem so sure that he would be playing on a line with Nugent-Hopkins that August night, that’s exactly what’s happening through the season from time to time. The best part, it’s working.
Currently Smyth, the oldest team Ryan co-leads the Oilers in goals with 12 along with the youngest Ryan, Nugent-Hopkins. In terms of points, Smyth has 26 which is good enough for 16th in the top 25 top scorers in the NHL. The top 25 list is quite interesting as so many players are tied with the same number of points and the top and bottom of the list are only separated by 10 points.
The admiration and affections felt for Smyth are quite interesting. Many fans were too young, or not yet born when Gretzky reigned over Edmonton let alone when he was traded. For many, I included, Smyth was the first big trade that shocked and reshaped how they saw the team and the business of hockey.
When I first set out to write about what Smyth’s return to the city truly meant, I thought that I would be writing about the fans loving Smyth as much as they loved Gretzky, but after polling as many people as I possibly could, I’ve realized that it is due in large part to the social media and the amount of information we have at our disposal, all of the time that Smyth seems so big in Edmonton right now. It is not that Smyth is not admired, revered or adored, but rather that those feelings are amplified.
When Gretzky played for the Oilers, the team was full of talent and they were constantly winning. Smyth’s Oilers were more working class, far less talented and more about heart. When Smyth was traded, he didn’t even try to hide his tears and he never played the same. Many had their doubts that Smyth would ever be as valued again as he is today. As corny as it sounds, Smyth derives his strength from Edmonton it would seem. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, instead of wishing to just be a hockey player when he grew up, Smyth wanted to be an Edmonton Oiler.
No matter who is the overall MVP or most beloved Oiler of all time, Smyth is the current day favourite. His quiet and humble manner in public and with the media, and his leadership and on-ice instruction to the younger players is exactly why the Oilers have brought Smyth in, and these are the attributes that it is hoped the young players will pick up on.
Smyth is a small town Alberta boy who wanted to come back to Edmonton after experiencing big American city living. The Oilers and their fans hope that the young stars will forge friendships and a feeling of home in Edmonton, and that will help to keep the team’s core intact and in Edmonton.
So far it seems, so good. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all of similar age and seem to enjoy spending time together. Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall are roommates who sometimes tweet about their home life and gaming experiences. Nugent-Hopkins is still a quiet and polite young man. When he is not an NHL star, Nugent-Hopkins enjoys playing Xbox.
While the Oilers transition back to a skilled team, having a player as famous and loved in the city of Edmonton as Smyth is will surely help the team as much as the players. Although Smyth may no longer have the best hair on the team, he has the respect and admiration that any team MVP would want, why Smitty now has his own song.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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