After 12 years in the NHL, Ryan Smyth has been through more than his share of battles.
He’s played in 788 regular season games and 73 playoff contests while racking up 564 career points and 621 penalty minutes.
Still, Smyth could hardly wait to lace up the skates with his new teammates. Only one day after arriving in Denver last week, the coveted free agent was on the ice at the Avalanche’s practice facility skating with the rest of Colorado’s veterans.
The past few months have been quite a journey for Smyth. The former Edmonton Oilers standout was shipped to the New York Islanders last season at the trading deadline after more than a decade in Alberta. He finished the year on Long Island, playing in 18 regular-season games and five playoff contests.
On July 1st, the opening day of free agency, the gritty, hard-nosed left wing agreed to a five-year contract with Colorado, filling a role that the organization felt they needed to address. Since that day, Smyth has been eager to join his new teammates in their quest to return the Avalanche to playoff glory.
The anticipation of the past few months have been well worth the wait.
“I’ve been in contact with some of the veteran players. It’s great to get back onto the ice and have that ‘itch’ feeling again,” said Smyth. “I’m excited to be a part of this. I just want to help the team win.”
The veteran forward is familiar with the history of the organization he’s joining. Smyth has seen his share of action against the club over the years and realizes the Colorado Avalanche has a commitment to excellence. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from being very impressed with the class of the organization.
“Right from day one they’ve accepted my family and myself,” said Smyth. “How they deal with everything and how they treat their players is with nothing but class. The organization has done nothing but great things for my family.”
Every Colorado fan knows about the now infamous phone call Avs captain Joe Sakic placed to Smyth that helped bring him to Denver. But can a single phone call - albeit from one of the game’s greats - be the only determining factor in a free agent signing? Not likely.
While Sakic’s message struck a chord within Smyth and may have ultimately been the determining factor in his decision, Smyth saw many other appealing aspects of the Avalanche organization long before his phone rang on that day.
“Obviously Joe led the charge and is a future Hall-of-Famer. He’s a guy that has won before and knows what it takes,” said Smyth. “But the team’s youth and the excitement of those kids – the Stastnys, the Wolskis, John-Michael Liles – how good they are and all the great things they do, we looked at those kinds of things as well in our decision.”
Elevated expectations come along with any major free agent signing. It’s a sliding scale; the larger the signing, the larger the desired impact. That’s something that both Smyth and fellow newcomer Scott Hannan are well aware of.
But throughout Smyth’s career, he’s proven to be a player who has thrived under pressure, whether it’s been in the regular season, the playoffs or in international competition. It’s a safe bet that Smyth won’t be intimidated by his new surroundings or the pressure.
“That’s part of being a professional athlete. You have to make sure you deal with the pressure. Just go out and perform and make yourself be a part of it,” said Smyth.
Smyth’s unofficial introduction as a Colorado Avalanche player came on the opening day of training camp, where the 6-foot-1, 190 pound forward showed the physical prowess, passion and offensive capability that so endeared him to his fans over the years.
Although he is still becoming accustomed to his new surroundings and learning to play with his new teammates, Smyth, often lining up next to Sakic, gave Avalanche fans a glimpse of what’s in store for the season ahead.
“I’m just starting to get to know the guys really well. That’s what camp is all about. You get to know your teammates and make yourself feel at home,” said Smyth. “I’m just happy to be on the ice.”
As excited as Smyth is about joining the Avs, the feeling has been reciprocated by his new teammates, most of whom have been on the opposing side of his vast array of skills in the past.
“When I first heard we had signed Ryan Smyth I was really excited,” said Avs defenseman Brett Clark. “I’ve battled him over the years and found that he’s a tough player to go up against. He’s not afraid to mix it up along the boards and sacrifice his body in front of the net. He’ll do whatever it takes to win and should really help to improve our team.”
Avalanche Head Coach Joel Quenneville is also already sold on Smyth, who has a reputation for going hard to the net and playing tough every night.
“Ryan will enhance not just our lines up front but our power play as well,” said Quenneville. “I think he’s one of those guys you just love to have on your team. He’s the ultimate warrior, he’s a winner.”
While Smyth has only been in Denver for a few days, he’s already positive that he made the right decision by signing with the Avalanche. And if all goes well, he should be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that my family and I made the right decision,” said Smyth “My wife has been really supportive through this whole process and it’s been great how the organization was dealt with us. I know that Scott Hannan has been in the same boat. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”