April 12, 2014

Ryan Smyth: The Quintessential Oiler

The highly respected Ryan Smyth announced he will retire from hockey at the conclusion of the current season.

Smyth was the face of the post-Wayne Gretzky Oilers. Unfortunately for the Oilers fans Smyth's era was far less successful as Gretzky's, but it was highlighted with Smyth leading the team to a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2006. Smyth spent most of his 18-season career in Alberta’s capital.

Hard-working, dependable and reliable, Smyth was the heart of the Oilers. While his long flowing and his hunched over skating style hinted of Wayne Gretzky, he was far from it. He mixed a mucker's mentality with an opportunistic scoring touch. He was far from the pretty face and did not play a pretty game. He was far from a natural star, relying on hard work first and foremost to be effective.

And effective he was. Smyth has 386 goals and 456 assists and 974 penalty minutes in 1,269 games heading into Edmonton’s season finale against the visiting Vancouver Canucks. He added 59 points (28-31) and 88 penalty minutes in 93 career playoff games. He was a bit of an awkward power forward who played bigger than he actually was and stubbornly excelled in front of the net, screening goalies and tipping pucks.

It may have been ugly, but that was what made it so beautiful and endeared him to the city. Smyth was a fan favorite for all of the right reasons - excellence on the ice, class off of it. Most important of all the Banff, Alberta native bled Oilers blue and orange perhaps more so than any player in their glorious history. As such Ryan Smyth will not only go down in history as one of the greatest Oilers ever, but he may very well be the quintessential Oiler of all time.

In a tearful goodbye Smyth left Edmonton to briefly play with the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings before returning home to Edmonton. But if there was ever another team that Smyth was associated with other than Edmonton it was Team Canada. Smyth became known as Captain Canada after representing his country at the world juniors, eight times at the world championships, and twice at the Olympics. He was part of Canada's 2002 gold-medal team at Salt Lake City.

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