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Ryan Smyth: Making time for fans across Oil Country

by Bryan Kelly / Edmonton Oilers

Ryan Smyth poses for a photo with terminally ill Oilers fan Donald New. (photo by Taz McGillis)

Ryan Smyth makes a hard living out of going to the tough areas in the rink, but he understands there are far greater challenges in life than trying to score in the blue paint. So when he received a request from the Mustard Seed Church that they thought had longshot written all over it, he saw it for what it was – a dying man’s final wish.

So the battle scarred veteran and his wife Stacey quietly headed off to the Edmonton General Hospital this past week to visit Donald New, a lifelong Oilers fan who is terminally ill with cancer at just 58 years of age. The couple surprised Donald and his family in a hospital room decked out with Oilers Jerseys and photos, to talk hockey, sign autographs and share compassion. Donald was absolutely beside himself, exclaiming at one point,

“I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking to Ryan Smyth. It’s unbelievable!”

Ryan and Stacey are both well-known in Oil Country for their community and charity work, frequenting the Stollery Children’s Hospital, among other organizations. It’s one of the many reasons Smyth has been a fan-favourite since he joined the Oilers in 1994.

After the Smyths’ visit, Donald’s family and friends reflected on the experience and wanted to ensure the player fans affectionately call “Smitty” is acknowledged for the wonderful “Gift of Time” he gave Donald.

“When I called him today,” said Donald’s daughter Holly Forrester, “all he could talk about was seeing Ryan, which is a relief because for once he wasn’t talking about the pain. Ryan’s visit lifted up his spirit. It’s great to see a team that cares about their fans.”

“The visit was a definite highlight in Donald’s life and meant a lot to him as well as to his family,” added family friend and Aboriginal Elder Taz McGillis. “I was deeply moved. The Aboriginal community of Edmonton is very grateful for the Gift of Time that Ryan gave to Donald in bringing fruition to his last wish.”

Taz went so far as to send the Oilers photos of the visit, asking them to use them “as a means to show the world that the Oilers are more than just a hockey team, that they are a team of people who have heart and soul.”

After fulfilling Donald’s final wish, Smyth returned to work at Rexall Place Friday night, suiting up with his teammates to take on the Anaheim Ducks. While his teammates may not be aware of his visit to Donald New this past week, they would not be surprised. They watch him take punishment game in game out but they are also well aware that his leadership goes far beyond the ice and can be seen all across Oil Country by people like Donald New.
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