September 23, 2015

Ray Whitney

In the 1980s Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers rewrote the NHL record book en route to establishing a Stanley Cup dynasty.  Gretz, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and the entire gang were long retired by the turn of the century, but did you know who were the final two members of that dynasty to be playing in the National Hockey League?

Yes, this is a trick question.

In 1987 the Oilers hired three local youth hockey players to alternate as stick boys. One was none other than Ray Whitney, 15 at the time. Another was Ray's brother Dean. And the third was an 11 year old kid named Ryan Smyth. The three also worked Team Canada's 1987 Canada Cup training camp in Banff, too.

In the 2000s Ray Whitney and Ryan Smyth were still enjoying the insider benefits of a National Hockey League dressing room. Only for much of those two spanned decades they have been playing the game rather than handling sticks. They were the ones signing autographs rather than collecting them.

Everyone was a Ryan Smyth fan, if not for his long and classy run as the face of the post-dynasty Oilers then for his unending devotion to Team Canada. With his jersey half tucked and his unique crossovers, his skating very much reminded us of Wayne Gretzky. But it was his fearless drives to the net that kept him in the NHL.

Whitney long thrived as wily puck handler with tremendous poise and vision, despite his obvious lack of size. He was a shifty wizard on skates, creating space for himself expertly. He possessed a tricky shot, but he was always primarily a playmaker. The last original San Jose Shark still playing, he may be best known for playing with the Carolina Hurricanes

For 9 games in 1997 he, too, joined Ryan Smyth and skated with the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers waived Whitney back then, figuring he was not good enough to stick with the team at that point. This despite parts of 5 years of NHL experience with the San Jose Sharks. As disappointing as being waived must have been, it was a blessing in disguise for young Whitney. The Florida Panthers picked him up and for the next three years he was challenging 30 goals and 70 points a season. 

After short but productive stays in Columbus and Detroit, Whitney landed in Carolina for five seasons. The undeniable highlight of that run was the 2006 Stanley Cup championship. Interestingly, Carolina met Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers in that memorable 7 game series.

It was just the latest in the intertwined lives of two Edmonton Oilers stick boys turned NHL stars name Ray Whitney and Ryan Smyth. 

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