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Smyth: The End of an Era

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Getty Images.

The old warrior rides off into the sunset.

Throughout his 19-year playing career, Ryan Smyth has embodied what it means to be an Edmonton Oiler and what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. On Friday afternoon, the 38-year-old veteran officially announced his retirement from the NHL.

“There are many players that have worn the Edmonton Oiler jersey but there are no players that have worn the jersey that had more passion than Ryan Smyth,” Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish said.

An emotional but kept-together Smyth took his time thanking the many influences in his life, from his wife and kids to his trainers, doctors, coaches and teammates. Then, he made his announcement.

“There comes a time in my life where you have turn the page and today I am doing that,” Smyth said. “As hard as it is to say goodbye to the game of hockey, I am blessed that God has given me the ability and passion (for) this great game and to have had the opportunity to play as long as I have. I have a wonderful family… to enjoy the rest of my life with…”

For years Smyth has earned his keep by going to the hard areas and being beaten, bruised and punished for the sake of his team. Now comes the time when he’ll hang up the skates, put up his wooden stick and call it a night. It’s been a career that, after Saturday night, will have spanned 1,270 regular season games (971 with the Oilers).

“I’m just trying to soak it all in,” he said. “It’s truly a pleasure to play in the NHL and to see 18 years go by as fast as it has, you want to relish every moment. Even in practice today, staying out there and playing three-on-three, I just love it. I just love the game and, like (MacTavish) said, I do have a passion for the game and I’m just excited for my new chapter though.”

Smyth, a Banff, AB native, will make his retirement home the city of Edmonton and why wouldn’t he? Heading into Saturday night’s season finale, Smyth has played 15 seasons in a city that has embraced the player, since he was selected sixth overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.

Photos by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

“I think he embodies what the Edmonton fans like in a hockey player,” Oilers goalie and Spruce Grove native Ben Scrivens said. “He’s a never say, ‘quit’, right to the last minute, go to the tough areas, score a goal with your face if you have to type of player and I think that resonates with the people around here. I know for myself personally, when I was growing up with my family, he was a player that we watched as a catalyst. You almost liked watching him get the absolute crap get kicked out of him in front of the net and then watch him get rewarded by it by putting one home.”

Smyth holds several Oilers club records. Although, he is still in pursuit of another. Smyth, going into Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, is tied with Glenn Anderson for the most power play goals (126) in franchise history. Should he net just one more to reach 127 in his 1,270th career game, Smyth will only add to his legacy.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I would love to take sole possession of it and it would be fitting… to do it in the last game. It’s been quite an accomplishment in itself but to be recognized in amongst those players, Gretzky and Glenn Anderson, is an honour.”

Photo by Getty Images.

Smyth’s contributions on the ice are well documented. In addition to his long NHL career, Smyth has represented Canada on the world stage several times and is currently the country’s all-time leader in games played at the World Hockey Championship. ‘Captain Canada’ took home gold at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Off the ice, in the dressing room or at practice, Smyth has been a veteran leader and example for the younger players on the Oilers’ roster to follow.

“He’s brought a lot to our young group,” said Taylor Hall, who was one the current Oilers in attendance at the press conference. “Just him talking to our group this morning, really emphasizing the fact that it’s a privilege to play this game and he just reiterated that it is a lot of fun to play this game and to be a part of the group of guys that we have and day-after-day coming into the rink is truly something you should be grateful for. There’s a lot of things you can take from Smytty, a lot of things he did on the ice so well and in the room as well. He’s just a cheerful guy and a pleasure to be around.”

“Having a chance to play a few years with Smytty, you hear so much about him coming into the league and have an amazing amount of respect for him,” Oilers centre Sam Gagner said. “The way he’s kind of treated me as a young guy and taught me how to be a pro and you see the passion he has for the game even now after however many games he’s played. He’s always on the ice first, off last and working to get better and it’s something you can learn from as a teammate. You share in that passion that he has for the game and it’s really infections. He’s had an unbelievable career, he’s got a lot to be proud of an I think one of the biggest ones is the impact he’s had on his teammates and we’re obviously all very proud of him.”

MacTavish saw those characteristics in Smyth right away.

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“The lessons and the example that he had for our young players over the course of the last couple of years, (being) the first guy on the ice, last guy off the ice, it sounds cliche but it was true with Ryan,” MacTavish said. “It’s really a mixed bag of feelings that I have here. I’m sad to see the era end, Ryan’s era end with the Edmonton Oilers and professional hockey, but also very happy at this point to really celebrate what’s been an incredible career for an incredible Edmonton Oiler and an incredible person.”

Smyth will walk out the Oilers locker room doors, stride down the tunnel and skate through the iconic oil derrick one more time on Saturday night. It is a moment that will likely cause the feelings to bubble up inside the Oiler.

“Well, I’m thankful I made it through today, through my speech,” he said. “I didn’t want to be known as the guy ‘Crying Ryan’ from the trade and I’m thankful I got through that. I think I’ve matured in that regard. I’m an emotional guy. It’s going to be tough. (It’s been) a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the years and I’m just going to leave it at that.”

While Smyth has already committed to staying in Edmonton after his retirement, he wouldn’t provide certainty to the matter of whether or not he will join the Oilers in a different capacity. For Smyth, it’s time to catch up on some missed moments with his family.

“I’m going to take a year and really focus on my family and really relish this opportunity of not coming down to the rink all of the time and dealing with coaches. We’ve had preliminary talks but that’s ways from my mind right now.”

Smyth’s other family, his Oilers family, will be in attendance at Rexall Place and they’ll be sure to provide a proper send-off for the old warrior on his final ride.

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