April 14 2014 11:05AM
I attended Ryan Smyth’s NHL debut back in 1995. I was 14 at the time and I can clearly remember the game like it was yesterday. He had been playing most of the year in Moose Jaw and popped in for a few unremarkable starts before making a splash the following year. I was more hyped on Jason Bonsignore at the time but clearly recall "the other Ryan" from the 1994 draft suiting up and taking to the ice at Rexall Place.
20 years later I was at his retirement game. No longer in junior high, no longer needing rides from my mom to the game and back. I’m a completely different person. Ryan Smyth however is exactly the same person he was so many years ago. Still reppin the same ageless mullet and happy grin. Still grinding it out along the boards and standing in the line of fire in front of the net. Still happy to be an Oiler above anything else.
The world has changed a lot in those years but Captain Canada remained a constant the entire time.
WE OWE YOU
As Oilers fans we owe Smytty a great deal. He is undoubtedly the best Oiler of the modern age – his career goals, assists, points and aggregate ass kickings received speak to that.
A few winters from now when nobody on earth is thinking one bit about the 2002 Olympics, Smytty will still wake up to a sore ankle on cold mornings. When nary a soul is remembering the fierce battles of the Oilers and the Stars from the late 90s and early 00’s, Smytty will still feel a tweak in his back if he lifts something heavy too quickly. He has paid the price to be one of the best Oilers who ever did it, and on Saturday night the outpouring of emotion we saw at Rexall Place spoke volumes about how dear ol' Smytty is to Oilers fans around the world.
As Oilers fans we have been prevented from saying goodbye to our heroes in Oilers silks. They have been universally lured away to warmer, richer climates in the peak of their careers and we are left with watching their final matches in enemy jerseys. Weight, Cujo, all the 80s Oilers, Ryan O'Marra. Virtually to a man they have left and we haven’t been able to say goodbye properly at the end of their careers. For a City that loves its Oilers like their own sons this has been heartbreaking.
But we got to cheer Smytty off the ice and into the pantheon of Oilers legend - a small mercy in an era of unending misery for Oilers fans. As 94 skated off into history we all know in a secret part of our hearts that is usually filled with dread that there isn’t a single one of his remaining teammates that will fill the void he will leave behind.
Think any of the Oilers are even remotely considering flipping pucks into the crowd after warmup as Smytty did every single home game of his career? Think they are plotting plans to be out in the community on the regular or living here in the offseason? Think they would give up a chance at a cup in LA to return home to Satan’s Icebox?
We will leave the answer unsaid.
THE OILERS OWE YOU
In an era of millionaire athletes following the dollar and preaching platitudes about “giving it 100% and getting pucks deep” Smytty was a throwback to better times. He is the only Oiler I can recall that truly wanted to be here above any other team and found a way to get himself back into Edmonton for the end of his career.
He left the Kings and the warm beaches of LA to come back to Edmonton only to find his old squad winning the Cup a year after his departure and the Oilers in a familiar basement spot in the league. Nice guys often finish last and Smytty took yet another one for the team without a single unkind word in return. The man was born to be an Oiler.
We had to laugh when Smytty mentioned “playing for the front of the crest” on HNIC after his final match. The man has a unique way with words over the years and I suppose that Smyttyism best describes his approach to the game. You can’t teach heart and Ryan Alexander Gordon Smyth had it from shift one in the NHL to his final game on Saturday. He repped “the front of the crest” from start to finish and the Oilers Hockey Club owe him a great deal for his single minded efforts all these years.
I OWE YOU
On a personal note I owe Ryan Smyth a great deal too. His tear stained press conference at the Edmonton Airport after being dealt to the Isles enraged a young Wanye to such an extent that we started up a Ryan Smyth protest site – demanding his return and the head of the GM on a silver platter.
That site was well enough received that we had a mild-moderate brain wave and elected to spin it into OilersNation. Without Smytty capturing the hearts and minds of Oilers fans for nearly a generation there is zero chance we would have gotten around to starting the site. 7 years later it's doing 40 million visitors a year and has let me have great fun playing businessman and Oilers fan at the same time. As with so many great things, OilersNation was started due to rage, jealousy and a desire for revenge.
And when Smytty came back in 2011 we felt the wave of bad juju wash away. Even though the team has been a hot mess of a tire fire for the better part of a decade now, having 94 back was one positive light we could count on in an era of blackness.
Thanks for being such a great Oiler Smytty. Thanks for all the nights you could have mailed it in, on teams of little note, when you still manned up and put in a great game. You are truly one of the best and we shall never ever forget you.