by Lisa McRitchie on 08/07/11 at 09:00 PM ET
Fan favourite Ryan Smyth is beloved by many hockey fans throughout the world, but especially throughout the nation of Canada. Smyth not only played for Team Canada on many occasions, but also captained Canada’s World Championship team for a record six years Smyth has won several gold medals playing for his country including an Olympic gold in 2002. The nickname Captain Canada is fitting for the man who has left it all on the ice; blood, sweat, teeth and tears.
This was Smyth’s first time back on the ice at Rexall Place and the fans gave him a standing ovation. “It was pretty special, it gave me chills. It was nice to be on the ice with my little son too. Overall, I’m really looking forward to October 9th.” Smyth is definitely not alone in these sentiments as the fans and members of the media are anxious to see Smyth once again skating Rexall ice in the orange and blue.
“We didn’t win the red and white game, but we enjoyed ourselves and we had a lot of fun.” In a split squad game it is of course difficult to proclaim a winner. If anyone won, it was the fans.
“When Team Canada called and asked if I would come, it was obviously a no brainer.” Smyth commented on the opportunity to stand in front of the crowd for the puck drop, but Smyth doesn’t say no to Team Canada as his history representing his country has shown. This most recent call may have been the least demanding role Smyth has ever played, but it’s significance cannot be mistaken. “A lot of great memories, if I could pass it along to these young kids, then so be it.”
“I got the itch. I’ve skated a little bit lately, I’m pretty eager in that regards. We know it’s a long season, but it can’t come quick enough.” Smyth has just recently returned to the city of Edmonton with his family. After the news stories that have surrounded his return to the team, Smyth is likely eager to turn any news surrounding his name to that of goals and Oilers’ victories.
Shortly before addressing the media, Smyth had a moment to speak with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “That was my first time meeting him, I just wanted to obviously congratulate him on the game, but also for being selected first overall by Edmonton, and just seeing how his summer is coming.”
Smyth may have only just met Nugent-Hopkins, but the young centreman has already made an impression on Smyth. “He’s a nifty little player, that’s the first time I’ve really seen him live. Nice to see what he brings to the table and what he does. He’s patient and on that second goal, he had to pull it back and I saw him pull it back and shoot quick he got the five goal. Things like that you can’t teach. It’s nice to see for his sake. ..He’s trying to make an impression for team Canada and up here in Edmonton. He had a good game tonight”
Smyth recognizes that he has memories and experiences that can inspire and delight anyone. “I learned a great deal in my time. My first one [Team Canada tournament] was U17, but this one was my first one in 95. You can’t put into words how much it means for down the line. It means a great deal. The little things that make the difference; adapting to a role that you’re not used to, in a tournament that only lasts two weeks. It’s doing whatever it takes for the team.” Doing whatever it takes for the team are not just words for Smyth. It is not easy to forget Smyth returning two weeks early to the game after a surgery to repair his broken ankle in 2002, or losing three teeth after being struck in the face by the puck during game three of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals.
When the rumblings of Smyth asking for a trade back to Edmonton first began, I dreamt of Smyth’s gritty goals, and my mind immediately wandered to the possibility of Smyth aiding some of the young players with their development. When I asked Smyth about what he could bestow upon the youth he exclaimed that he sees more. “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.“
Youth development is a daunting task, and it comes not only from the coaching staff, but often from the veteran players as well. Does Smyth feel any additional pressure? “ No pressure, I just think that it’s an opportunity. Every opportunity it comes with a challenge, but if you don’t want to learn from both sides, then there is nowhere to go. In this situation, I want to learn and my age, and I think that the young kids at their age want to learn too.”
There are an awful lot of Ryans on this Oilers team. Perhaps a couple of Ryans hoisting the cup might be in the future? “That would be special.”
How about playing on the same line as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? “I’ll leave that up to the coaches.“
Smyth will always be larger than life to many fans, his return to Edmonton may be just what the citiy needs after two consecutive years of Oilers’ last place finishes. The winning streak held by the Edmonton Eskimos began shortly after Smyth was traded back to Edmonton. I find it hard to believe that there is no cosmic connection at all.
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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.
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