OILERS HOF: Smyth follows his hockey hero to the Hall of Fame

EDMONTON, Alta. – It’s not often you follow in the footsteps of your idols, but in Ryan Smyth’s case, he has to do it his way.

The newest inductee of the Edmonton Oilers Hall of Fame grew up the son of a mechanic in Banff, Alta. It was from his father that he would learn the tireless work ethic that ingrained him in the hearts of Oilers fans, despite being born at the dawn of Calgary Flames country.

Despite the closeness, it was the Blue & Orange that young Smyth shone, with Edmonton Oilers icon Wayne Grezky to thank for that one.

When Paul Coffey suggested during Wednesday’s Hall of Fame press conference that being a fan of our southern neighbors was even a possibility, Smytty shook his head vehemently. The veteran of 971 NHL games with the Oilers admits to this day that if you open him up, there’s a good chance he’ll bleed blue.

Smyth grew up idolizing Gretzky, and it was obvious just by looking at him. The old-school leather gloves that extended well past his wrists, the white accents on his skates, and the two-piece stick — Smyth’s whole aesthetic was a throwback to the greatest player to ever play the game.

Of course, once the puck dropped, Smyth and Gretzky couldn’t be more different.

“I think that’s where the comparison ended,” said Coffey, who shared a locker room with the two Oilers stars. “It’s okay for Smytty, but that’s where the comparison ended. Wayne was Ryan’s favorite player, but make no mistake, it wasn’t Wayne Gretzky. Smytty will tell you the same thing. What Ryan was, is Ryan Smyth. He played an old school game. He could play in today’s era. He could play in our era. He was a pleasure to watch because of this competitiveness.

Video: OILERS HOF | Ryan Smith 11.02.22

The now 46-year-old remembers the first time he officially donned Oilers colors, not as a fan, but as the sixth overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.

“Yeah, when I got drafted, when I put on my draft jersey, that was the first kind of ‘oh my God’ (moment) and then I put on the Oil jersey to play a game,” said said Smith. “It sends shivers down my spine right now when I talk about it. It was very special.”

It didn’t take long for Smyth to literally rub shoulders with his idol on a professional level. During Wednesday’s induction ceremony, Smyth recalled the story of his first experience in the National Hockey League.

“My first game in the NHL was against the Los Angeles Kings and against Wayne Gretzky. My first shift in the NHL was against Wayne Gretzky. I was lined up on the left wing and he was in the center and he was sent off,” Smyth said. “Now I line up against him, right against me, and it’s like, wow, is that really true? I pinch myself saying it. It’s evolved to play the Heritage Classic game with him. He opened the way for a lot of players, and I was very lucky to know him and to meet him.”

Like Gretzky, Smyth has a long history of dressing up for his country for some of Canada’s greatest hockey moments. The Great One has its legacy on arguably one of the greatest teams of all time – donning the iconic red and white jersey in the 1987 Canada Cup tournament on a roster that included 12 future Hall of Famers from the NHL, while Gretzky and Mario Lemieux was at the peak of his NHL dominance.

Smyth was famous for being a member of the 2002 Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team that broke a 50-year gold medal drought in Turin, Italy, also alongside Lemieux. The Oilers forward would wear the “C” for his country six times during his career, earning the nickname “Captain Canada.”

Smyth’s commitment to his team, his country and his willingness – bordering on eagerness – to drive in the front of the net endeared him to the hearts of Oil Country. His desire to sacrifice his body and get beat up to score each of his 386 NHL goals is a big reason why he, along with Lee Fogolin, was included in the Temple’s first induction class. of Edmonton Oilers fame.

“It’s funny to be back with the Oilers and going to coaching meetings trying to get current Oilers and league players to those dirty areas,” Coffey said of of Smyth’s playing style. “That’s where he lived, he lived in these tough neighborhoods.”

Some of that old school mentality that Smyth’s game thrived on was represented in the equipment he used. The long cuffed leather gloves weren’t good for swinging, but they certainly protected those wrists from slashes and hacks when parked in front of opposing goaltenders. His two-piece stick with a wooden blade couldn’t unleash a quick-release wrist shot to beat a goalie with deception, but he could take a pass and handle a beating in the crease while Smyth blocked without fear on loose rebounds.

Even as carbon composite poles over $300 have become the new fad; Smyth could never walk away from working for him for the 1,270 games of his career.

“No, I tried. I had reps trying to switch me from one-piece sticks to carbon graphite blades. I just couldn’t, the feel was a personal preference,” Smyth said. “I felt like when that puck came at me with my stick, it would stop with that wooden blade. I wasn’t recognized as a shooter, so whatever works for me in net, that’s what I stayed with.”

Despite his affinity for Wayne Gretzky, Smyth carved his own path to Oilers stardom and became a beloved figure in the community. It was a community in which, during his long career, he really anchored himself and became essential. He set the tone for a scrappy team that fought its way through sheer willpower to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals – a streak he maintains to this day. likely ends in a different outcome if not for the injury of goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

Smyth was a figure to admire during a period of ups and downs for the Edmonton Oilers franchise. He was a working-class player in a working-class town, doing his best to follow in the footsteps of local legends.

“They were my childhood heroes. I tried to emulate Gretz back then and it worked throughout my career. Ron Lowe is one of my earliest coaches and really inspired me, from day one how I was as a player and how these guys really connected in the community I wanted to connect and my family in the community and we got involved with the Stollery and a few other charities around from the city.

“But for me, I felt like I knew every fan,” he added. “They were so grateful for the hard work, and I wore my heart on my sleeve and did everything I could to make sure the organization won.”

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