April 24, 2006

Stan Smyl

No one player symbolizes the Vancouver Canucks more accurately than Stan Smyl.

Born in Glendon, Alberta, Smyl became a fixture on the Vancouver hockey scene long before he was eligible to play in the National Hockey League. Smyl played his junior career with the fabled New Westminster Bruins, where he was a huge part of their success. The team played in an incredible 4 consecutive Memorial Cup championships, an unheard of accomplishment in junior hockey where yearly roster changes are as much a part of the game as pucks and jock straps. Along with future career NHLers like Barry Beck, Ron Greschner, John Ogrodnick, Mark Lofthouse, Brad Maxwell and Lorne Henning, Smyl delivered two consecutive Memorial Cups to British Columbia's lower mainland.

In hindsight it is unfortunate the hometown Vancouver Canucks did not draft more Bruins than they did. But they did snatch up one player - small but aggressive Stan Smyl - in the third round (40th overall) of the 1978 Amateur Draft.

Smyl stood only 5'8" but played at close to 190 pounds much of his professional career. Despite his short stature, Smyl was strong on his skates and had great balance to make up for it. Affectionately known as "Steamer," Smyl was a fierce physical player. Despite his size he would fearlessly go into the corners with anyone. The likeable and energetic Smyl had all the credentials of an NHL leader and captain.

With the exception of a three game stint in the minor leagues, Smyl made the Canucks full time in his first training camp. Smyl was looking to make a name for himself right away, and accomplished that in his first NHL scrimmage. Smyl went after Vancouver's big tough defenseman Harold Snepsts and stapled him with a thunderous body check. Notice was served: Smyl was here to stay. In his first season Smyl put up a respectable 14 goals and 38 points. A nagging injury limited Smyl to 62 games but it became apparent very quickly that despite his lack of size, Smyl would be a very good NHLer very soon.

1979-80 was perhaps Smyl's best season. Although he would later have better scoring statistics in a season, Smyl became the first player in the long history of the NHL to lead his team in goals, assists, points and penalty minutes in one season. In 77 games Steamer potted 31 goals while assisting on 47 more for 78 points, and while accumulating 204 minutes in the penalty box.

Smyl would slip just a touch statistically the next season, registering 25 goals and 63 points but returned to the 78 point level in 1981-82 with 34 goals and 44 helpers. More importantly Smyl was a huge part of the Vancouver Canucks "Cinderella Run" in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canucks caught fire right at the end of the season and carried that into the playoffs, where with the help of a few lucky bounces, managed to find themselves in the Stanley Cup finals. The Cup run was based on hard work, physical play and pure heart and determination. Needless to say, the Cup run and Stan Smyl share the exact same qualities. Steamer led the team emotionally and physically while finishing second in scoring with 9 goals and 9 assists in 17 games in leading the Canucks to perhaps their most memorable moment in franchise history.

The following season Stan Smyl was named captain of the Vancouver Canucks. He responded with his best year offensively, scoring career highs in all three categories - 38 goals, 50 assists and 88 points. Unfortunately the Calgary Flames made sure there would be no repeat of the Cinderella run by mopping up the Canucks in 4 playoff games.

From 1984 until his career ended, Smyl's offensive output began a steady decline. For three years he became a consistent 65-70 point producer on some very bad Canuck squads, but then slipped to 43 points in 1986-87. The following season saw his streak of 8 consecutive seasons with at least 20 goals come to an end as he finished with 12 goals and 37 points. While Smyl's offensive production was no longer a strong point of his game, he never gave up that dogged physical style of play that got him into the NHL. From game one right through to his last NHL game, Stan Smyl played exactly the same style of hockey.

Over the course of his 13 seasons in Vancouver, Smyl set all-time club records for games played, goals, assists, and points, although all have since been bettered.. He also holds the distinction of having served the longest term as team captain. The finishing touch to his on-ice career came when his #12 was retired by the Canucks in 1991.

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