Athletes are often creatures of habit. Many follow certain pre-game routines, eat the same meals and adhere to a specific warm-up pattern. Some even use the same equipment, no matter how ragged and worn it has become over the years.
File Ryan Smyth into that last category. The Avalanche forward and 13-year NHL veteran has been using much of his equipment, including his shoulder pads and shin guards, since he first entered the league as an 18-year old rookie with Edmonton in 1995.
In a way, it fits Smyth. His tattered gear seems to evoke his throwback style of play; simple yet effective. In fact, Smyth is one of the only Avalanche players – goalies aside – that uses the same gear in practice that he does in games.
“It’s just something that grows on you,” Smyth said about his well-traveled gear. “I came from a team that used the same equipment all the time, so I got used to it.”
Perhaps the most interesting piece of equipment Smyth still uses day-in and day-out is his shin guards. They look like your typical guards except for one thing: a flesh-colored mold centered down the front of each guard that looks similar to the material used for prosthetic limbs. This modification, which Smyth said is more for aesthetics and comfort than added protection, was molded on during his time with the Oilers.
“A guy up in Edmonton was able to take the old CCM mold and put hard plastic on it,” said Smyth, who added “I like the look and feel. I like to look down and see the smoothness of it.”
With myriad advancements over the years in terms of equipment, many athletes prefer to have the newest, hottest products on the market. But there are still those, like Smyth, who prefer comfort and familiarity to style.
“It’s a matter of feel,” said Smyth. “There’s a level of comfort that comes along with using the same equipment.”
Avalanche captain Joe Sakic is, or perhaps was, in the same boat as Smyth. Sakic used the same flimsy shoulder pads in games from the time he broke into the league until just a few years ago, mostly because of the comfort factor.
“I liked them, they were nice and light,” Sakic said of his old shoulder pads. “I’d change the cups and stuff like that, but last year they found me a brand new version of that old style that they’re not making anymore, so I switched.”
However, Sakic still uses those same, dilapidated pads in practice – gear that was produced when movies such as “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Field of Dreams” were ruling the box office and before popular television shows “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” ever hit the air.
But now that the captain has decided to stray away from his well-aged, worn equipment – at least in game situations - is it time for Smyth to make the leap?
“For sure,” Sakic joked.
“I’ll keep my comments to myself on that one,” he quipped. “I’m just going to do whatever makes me feel better and more comfortable out there.”