When Rick Smith was asked about his long and well travelled career in pro hockey, he said "it was quite an education."
That's quite something coming from one of hockey's most educated players from an era where there was not much emphasis on scholastics among the puck jocks.
Smith attended McMaster University while playing junior in Hamilton. Every summer while playing big league hockey he would return home to Kingston, Ontario and took summer courses at Queen's University, eventually earning a bachelor of arts degree in biology with an interest in pursuing dentistry one day. When he finally retired from the NHL in 1981, he was able to focus his full attention on his thesis as he was earning his master's degree in computer science. He ended up buying 25 acres of property on Buck Lake, just north of Kingston. He would never leave Queen's, putting his degree to use to teach University staff how to use computers.
On the ice he was a steady if unspectacular defenseman, most notably in Boston where he did two separate tours of duty with the Bruins. "A defenseman's defenseman" coach Don Cherry said many times.
From 1968 through 1972, Smith was an understated member of the spectacular Bruins teams that featured the record breaking Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Smith just took care of his own end and let those two get all the accolades. As a result everyone got to hoist the Stanley Cup in 1970.
Orr and the Bruins would get to lift the Cup again in 1972, but Smith was traded away to the California Golden Seals just weeks earlier.
It devastated Smith.
"There'd been no indication or rumor of an impending deal, and the Bruins were really going great guns after being knocked out of the previous year's playoffs," he told Patrick Kennedy of the Kingston Whig-Standard in 1989. "So to go from that situation to playing for a team whose owner was more concerned that the players wear white skates ... it was perhaps my most difficult time in hockey."
Of all his stops in pro hockey, sunny California was his least favorite.
"That's the only place I wasn't happy. Charlie Finley ran the team in Oakland then, but I don't think his interests were in the best interests of the team. We were in turmoil all of the time and it was a shame because Garry Young put together a nice group of players."
Smith got his release a year and a half later, jumping to the World Hockey Association for three seasons. He returned to the NHL in 1976, skating with the St. Louis Blues.
But it was his return to Boston and new coach Don Cherry a little more than a year later that was the highlight of his hockey career.
"We were the lunch-bucket brigade, very close and supportive of each other. We were Don's kind of team, his kind of players and he was responsible for instilling some unity and a strong feeling of togetherness. We may not have won during those last four years in Boston, but they'll always remain special years. For me -- and probably for a good number of teammates from that team -- those seasons with Don Cherry as coach were my most self-rewarding years in hockey."
After brief stops in Detroit and Washington, Rick Smith retired in 1981.
We enjoyed watching Smith play for the Minnesota Fighting Saints in our youth. He was a popular player here.
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