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Jason Smith no longer an Oiler, but still wearing the "C" in Philly

NHL.com @NHL

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers tore the captain's "C" off Jason Smith's jersey last summer, but it didn't take the Philadelphia Flyers long to stitch it right back on.

That says something about Smith, who went to Philadelphia July 1 when GM Kevin Lowe traded the longest-serving captain in Oilers history to the Flyers with Joffrey Lupul for Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson.

That wasn't an easy move for Lowe to make and it wasn't an easy move for Smith, vacationing in Los Angeles with his family when he was told about the trade.

It's understandable then that walking into Rexall Place Friday as captain of the Flyers after 542 games with the Oilers stirred up all kinds of emotions for the hard-nosed defenceman.

"I was a bit surprised and shocked, I guess," Smith said. "Within a few minutes, I was obviously excited. I had a lot of fun playing here, but it's an opportunity and a new challenge.

"It was a difficult time with my family and wife, but by the time the first day was over and we talked about it, we were looking forward to moving on."

Smith, who turns 34 Nov. 2, became the 11th captain of the Oilers when he assumed the letter from Doug Weight on Sept. 27, 2001. His place in team folklore as a stellar leader and fierce competitor was long assured when the trade was made.

It's those qualities that prompted the rebuilding Flyers to name Smith their captain Monday before they opened their regular season with a 3-2 win over the Flames in Calgary Thursday.

"It's something I'm going to look at as another challenge," Smith said. "With the group of guys and the experience in the room, it's going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we'll have a lot of success and win a lot of games."

A first-round pick (18th overall) of New Jersey in 1992, Smith jump-started his career with the Oilers after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a couple of draft choices in March 1999.

It didn't take long for Oilers fans to wonder what the Leafs were thinking in letting Smith, a punishing hitter and fearless shot-blocker, go for two picks. The picks turned out to be Jonathan Zion and Kris Vernarsky, who have a combined 17 NHL games between them to Smith's 869.

"Edmonton is a blue-collar town," said coach Craig MacTavish. "Fans have a heightened appreciation of blue-collar, gritty players and Jason very much fits that mould.

"I'm sure Edmonton fans will show their appreciation for the heart-and-soul way he played the game when he wore the uniform."

One of the first Flyers in the rink Friday, Smith took time to chat with Steve Staios and several other former teammates down the hall outside the Oilers swank, new dressing room before practice.

"Hockey is hockey and business is business, but it's kind of hard to see him in a different uniform," Staios said.

"He's a friend for life. You don't meet many of those guys. The game is going to be the game. You get focused and you can almost forget he's on the other side. At least you do your best."

Smith is particularly close to Staios and Ethan Moreau. When Smith was traded, MacTavish asked who he thought should be his next captain. Smith's endorsement went to Moreau.

"He cares," Staios said of Smith. "He gets the most out of everybody by what he does. He doesn't really mean to lead, I don't think. He just does it and we followed suit."

Now, it's the Flyers who'll fall in step with Smith, who wasn't divulging if he had dinner plans with his old mates while in town.

"A lot of good friends," said Smith, who was sharing a house with Moreau and his family in California at the time of the trade.

"Our families spent a lot of time together and will continue to spend time together. We've already got it set up to spend next summer together again."

Friendships or not, when Smith leads the Flyers on to the ice Saturday, there won't be any time for reminiscing.

"I'm going to go out and play the game I play," he said. "It's an important game for them as well as for us.

"As much as it's early in the season, it's an important stretch for our team to build momentum and get things going the right way. Come game time, it's a game. It's Flyers versus Oilers.

"Be friends with guys before the game and after the game, but during the game, I'm going to do everything I can to help our team win."

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