By Ryan Smyth
My story begins at age two, in Banff, Alberta...
I had those double blades the first time I hit the ice. From there I played organized hockey when I was 4, beginning minor league hockey then when it was called Tikes. I think they are called Tim Bits now, but they were Tikes back then.
Born and raised in Banff, I played all my minor hockey there except for one year in Caronport, Saskatchewan, when I played Double-A Midget there and then went on to junior.
Before that, though, there was a lot of falling. A lot of sore hips but I just kept getting back up and keet going again. I also remember a few times skating with my brothers on outdoor ponds. I remember one year when I was between 3 and 5 years of age and it was so exciting to you even though you couldn’t skate backwards then and accomplish what I’ve accomplished now.
But still hockey was my passion. If it wasn’t on the ice it was street hockey or floor hockey as well. It was just relentless, never-ending and it still is obviously to this day. And I really take pride, you know, in the game. It’s an honor and it’s a privilege to play in the National Hockey League, but it was a lot of fun as a kid too.
|Ryan Smyth battles with Adam Foote in front of Hall-of-Fame goaltender Patrick Roy back in 2002. Foote retired at the end of the regular season. |
I was good at a young age and I do remember playing in a few tournaments and my mom would say fans would be booing me because I would always have the puck and it was obviously discouraging for my mother because I was just a kid who wanted to play hockey and loved it. But I got to play up with my brother in Pee Wee and Bantam, and I jumped up from Pee Wee to Bantam one year to play with my brother, Kevin. Then I played with the older group and I felt like I fit in at that time and I really learned a lot. My second year of Bantam, one of my coaches said, ‘You’ve got something that’s special.’ I really admired that he was encouraging too.
As a kid, I can honestly say I aspired to play in the NHL. Banff is close to Calgary and Edmonton. I mean my favorite player is Wayne Gretzky so knowing that the NHL teams were not too far from us, and watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights, was just great. Catching the games on TV was awesome and exciting. Going to the games because mom and dad had season tickets was awesome too.
I was lucky to have several NHL encounters at a young age. Growing up in Banff I was fortunate to know Kevin Lowe who married Karen Percy at the time, so that wedding was in Banff. Barrie Stafford, one of the Oilers trainers, lived in Banff and for the ’84 Canada Cup they practiced in Banff and I always hung around the rink with Barrie Stafford who invited me to be a stick boy. So I mean I was hanging around Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and all those Islander guys in Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin. I was in awe of them on TV every Saturday night and then I was sitting in the room and saying, ‘Here’s your stick.’ It was quite a special moment for me back in ’84.
|"Captain Canada" Ryan Smyth celebrates a goal with former Team Canada teammates Dany Heatley and Eric Brewer. |
Banff also sported some good hockey. We had a good little team in minor hockey, all the minor hockey teams in Banff competed pretty hard against little towns like Canmore and then we would get into tournaments in Calgary because our league couldn’t go into Calgary. It was just their own division or whatever. But we played tournaments in Calgary so that was a big step for us to play in Calgary in tournaments in bigger cities. But it was quite competitive and Banff minor hockey did an excellent job then and I think they still do now.
I think I was 12 or 13 when I saw a turning point in my game. My coach, his name was Jim, actually played for the Victoria Cougars and he gave me a lot of encouragement. My older brother played juniors for the Moose Jaw Warriors and he had his coaches who actually came through Banff one time to head out for a game. I got to skate with them, I think I was 14 at the time, and they were encouraging too. ‘Keep it going, you got something going,’ they would say and then I got drafted by the Moose Jaw Warriors.
My decision to play juniors was an easy one for me. I don’t think I was the smartest kid, so I was excited to play hockey but I wanted to make sure I graduated. I didn’t think the college thing was for me so junior was obviously a big step. And in Canada that’s for sure one of the major things. That or Tier II in juniors. Obviously with my older brother playing in the Western Hockey League just following in my brother’s footsteps in that regards was exciting. It’s good hockey, it’s a big level and a big step forward.
When I got draft eligible for the NHL, it is a big day when you get drafted, and for me to get drafted by the team I grew up loving and to be a part of the Edmonton Oilers was special. I had some pre-draft meetings with the Oilers, but to me it didn’t seem like they were that interested in taking me. They were excited about me as a player, but I really got the sense that Tampa Bay was really intrigued by me.
Deep down inside, though, I kept telling myself how nice it would be to be an Oiler. I grew up in Banff and they were my favorite team. The Oilers took me sixth overall and I was ecstatic. It was the thrill of a lifetime. Glen Sather, who had five Stanley Cups, was heading things up so I was pretty intrigued.
That was also the year of a lockout so I went back to juniors because there was no hockey for 105 days. I then played the World Juniors, got a chance to play with some of the NHL players there like Eric Daze and Jason Allison and it was great.
Then I went back to Moose Jaw, finished out my juniors and then the Oilers, a team not making the playoffs that year, called me up and I skated with the extra guys. Then I actually got to play three games that season and my first NHL game was in the Great Western Forum in L.A.