EDMONTON - Ryan Smyth said he was glad to come home, but is happy the homecoming is over.
The former longtime Edmonton Oiler came back to the Alberta capital with his new team, the Colorado Avalanche, and defeated the copper and blue 4-2 in NHL action Tuesday.
Smyth, who played his first 11 pro seasons in Edmonton, said it was an emotional night that peaked in the pre-game when the 16,839 fans at Rexall Place gave him a 30-second standing ovation after a one-minute video tribute to Smyth was played on the Jumbotron.
Smyth was left teary-eyed and had to skate to the middle of the ice twice to lift his stick in salute to the fans. Players on both benches banged their sticks on the boards in admiration.
"It got me. It was tough," said Smyth.
"I was excited to come here and get this game underway and get it done with."
He said he tried to focus on the game but couldn't help but notice some of the banners fans held aloft ("Smyth Country", read one).
Colorado winger Ian Laperriere, who sits beside Smyth in the dressing room, said it was emotional for everyone.
"You know, everyone is on the bench is supposed to be tough and say 'We're not crying,' but I had tears in my eyes," he said.
Smyth said teammate Brett Clark retrieved and gave him the game puck.
Smyth, the 31-year-old native of Banff, Alta., did not register a point. In 21:25 of ice time spread over 24 shifts he registered four shots, two takeaways, two giveaways and a blocked shot. He was minus 1.
"It was a special moment for him," said Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville. "I'm sure it was a tough game to play."
In the Oiler dressing room, centre Jarret Stoll said the tribute was fitting: "It was a great career he had in Edmonton. You have to honour and respect that and we do."
Oiler coach Craig MacTavish said the fans got it right with the ovation, but also by booing Smyth when he had the puck.
"I thought that was appropriate as well."
Smyth has three goals and three assists with the Avalanche so far this season after leaving the New York Islanders in the off-season and signing with Colorado as a free agent.
He collected 549 points over 770 regular season games with the Oilers, many of them by standing in front of the net, screening the goalie, absorbing heavy lumber from a defenceman, and tipping in point shots or snagging rebounds.
He is seventh on the Oilers' list of all-time scorers.
His grit was perhaps best epitomized when he took a clearing shot off the face during a playoff game against the San Jose Sharks in the Oilers' Stanley Cup final run of 2006.
Smyth trailed blood and broken teeth back to the trainer's room only to emerge and assist on the game-winning goal.
He left over a contract dispute with Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe. Lowe reportedly offered a five-year US$27-million deal with a no-trade clause, but Smyth, who felt like he had signed for less than value to stay in his favourite city in the past, balked at anything less than $27.5 million.
With an impasse looming and the potential to lose Smyth as free agent, Lowe dealt him to the Islanders for youngsters Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra along with the Islanders' 2007 first-round draft pick (which turned out to be Alex Plante).
The trade hit Edmonton fans hard. They had grown to admire Smyth, nicknamed Captain Canada for his yeoman service in international play. Many had hoped he would finally be the Oiler star to play out his entire career in an oil-drop jersey.
Smyth said Monday there are no hard feelings and that both sides did what they felt was in their best interests at the time. His five-year deal in Denver pays him $6.25 million a year.
His return was far more muted than his departure. Hours after he was traded in February, fans chanted his name in absentia and booed the Oilers as they fell to the Phoenix Coyotes on the night Oiler great Mark Messier's jersey was retired.