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Greg Smyth

It's not too often you hear of a minor league tough guy refusing to play in the National Hockey League. But that is exactly the surprise decision defenseman Greg Smyth made in 1990-91.

"I told the Nordiques I'm not going to be their babysitter," Smyth told The Hockey News. "I'm tired of getting called up for one game just to fight and then being sent back to the minors. I'm not going to report to Quebec unless they plan to keep me there for a few games."

Greg Smyth was a fifth year pro at that stage, and by the end of the season he would have over 1100 penalty minutes in 200 minor league games. He also had played in 72 NHL games with Philadelphia and Quebec, with six more in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He had over 300 penalty minutes, and one goal.

The Nordiques complied with Smyth's wishes, leaving him in the minor leagues. It came at a significant cost to Smyth though. His minor league salary was reportedly just $35,000 for that season.

The two sides made amends the next season. Smyth would play 29 games with the Nordiques before finding his release in the form of a trade to the Calgary Flames.

The Flames were looking for toughness, and they certainly got it in Greg Smyth. His reputation was well cemented as a bit of a loose canon.

He was suspended in junior for swinging his stick at opponents and feuding with opposing fans. He was even charged, but later acquitted, of assaulting one fan.

In the minors he was suspended for multiple bench clearing brawls (including one before the game even started) and a couple of times for deliberate attempts to injure.

In NHL circles he was probably best remembered for leaving the penalty box to challenge Lyndon Byers in a game between the Nordiques and the Bruins at the old Boston Garden.

Smyth - affectionately known as Bird Dog - would play in 42 games with the Flames over two seasons, but would not be resigned. He joined the expansion Florida Panthers for the 1993-94 season, only to find himself in Toronto after 12 games, and then in Chicago after another 11 games.

Smyth would play 60 games over two seasons with the Hawks, but would be out of the NHL altogether soon thereafter.

It was back to battling in the minor leagues for Smyth, who finally retired in 1999. But he did try to stay in the game.

Smyth played nine games for a pro team in Great Britain before returning to Canada, settling in Newfoundland where he was exceptionally popular. He wanted to play with a local senior team, but the league banned him over concerns about his violent past. He eventually was allowed to play as a playing-coach. He later got into broadcasting in Newfoundland.

Through it all, Greg Smyth always appreciated what he had.

“I’ve been all over North America,” he says. “I’ve been able to travel from the east coast to the west coast and meet a bunch of neat people, and also play with some of the best hockey players in the world. I don’t think it’s ever been glamorous for me. But the travel has been fun."

When all was said and done, Greg Smyth racked up exactly 3,100 penalty minutes in 643 pro games in four leagues, including 783 PIMs in 228 games in the NHL.

"He was literally the craziest guy I ever played with," remembered former teammate Shawn Thornton. "But, he'd be the first guy I'd call if I ever was in jail. He'd give the shirt off his back to help a person out if he liked you."


Michael Fenlon said…
R.I.P Bird Dog

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