The on-ice events of the night of Steve Smith’s 23-year birthday live in infamy, and unfairly cloud the story of a solid NHL career by a stand up guy. Steve Smith was a useful NHL hockey player over a long time, and its worth setting the record straight.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
Selected by Edmonton in the 6th round, 111th overall in 1981. The 1981 draft edition was considered a poor one at the time, owing to so many underage kids being drafted in 1979 and 1980. He was 6.03 when selected, and grew an inch after that, playing at 6.04 for his NHL career.
Steve Smith was a big, strong and tough NHL defenseman who could move the puck and protect his linemates. He played a calm, quiet game for the most part, combining the ability to outlet pass with good skating and puck carrying skills in order to be an effectove 2-way defender.
Smith was recalled and sent down a few times early in his pro career, mostly due to what Glen Sather called "rough spots" and the exceptional depth at defense Edmonton enjoyed in the mid 1980’s (Coffey, Lowe, Huddy, Fogolin, Gregg, etc). Smith was called up for the 1985 playoff run but did not appear in any games and did not get his name on the Stanley Cup that spring. He was called up for good on October 17, 1985.
I think its best we take care of the big moment of his career at this point, as it happened very early in his career. Smith found a way to push his way into the lineup during that 1985-86 season, playing in 55 games and going 4-20-24 166 +30 for the glory Oilers.
The club looked strong again that spring, coming off two straight Stanley’s and adding new names like Smith, Craig MacTavish, Marty McSorley, Raimo Summanen and Esa Tikkanen (who had played a little the previous spring).
Edmonton rolled over Vancouver in the first round, and once again faced the strong Calgary Flames in the second round of the 1986 playoffs. Calgary had an outstanding spring, and in fact led Edmonton 3-2 in games before losing to the Oilers in Calgary in game 6–forcing a game 7 on April 30, 1986.
April 30, 1986 was Steve Smith’s 23rd birthday. The Flames and Oilers engaged in another of their classic battles, this time a game 7 death or glory affair. It was 2-2 after two, and the fateful play happened about the 5 minute mark of period 3. Calgary’s Perry Berezan sent the puck into the Edmonton zone as he was going off on a line change. Smith, a rookie, retrieved the puck behind the Oilers goal, moved to his left and attempted to fire a clearing shot out of the zone. Unfortunately, Smith had not looked up from the play to realize he was too close to his own goal. His shot caught the back of goaltender Grant Fuhr’s left leg and banked into the Edmonton net, giving Calgary a 3-2 lead it would never relinquish.
The Oilers had 15 minutes to score the tying goal, but they could not find the range. Glen Sather 26 and a half years ago
- "We lost as a team. We had lots of time to come back after that."
And that is the truth. However, history tends to write its own version of these things, and Steve Smith took a great deal of criticism after the fact. It took some time, but by fall 1986 he’d begun to heal.
- Smith: "As a kid growing up, I was taught you’re only as good as your last shift. My last shift was not a very good one."
- Three Stanley Cups: 1987, 1988, 1990
- All Star game 1991
- Oiler defenseman of the year 1991
- Team Canada 1991
- Holds Edmonton record for pims in one season (286 in 1987-88)
- suffered what must be a record number of back and back related injuries, forcing early retirement from which he would return.
In the fall of 1991, Glen Sather was paid in full for a valiant warrior. Edmonton traded Smith to Chicago in exchange for Dave Manson and 1992 third-round pick (Kirk Maltby) on October 2, 1991.
It remains one of my favorite sports memories of any kind–the moment Wayne Gretzky passed the Stanley to Steve Smith, spring 1987. Steve Smith went through hell and back in a calendar year and found redemption. Gretzky hands Stanley to Smith at about 7:16 of the video below. Someone should write a book.
From the HHOF:
Smith joined the Oilers for the majority of the 1985-86 season and stayed in the NHL for good in 1986. Smith who was towering defenseman with the Oilers enjoyed some great times in Edmonton, capturing his first of three Stanley Cups. Known more for his play in his own end, Smith also had an offensive aspect to his game. During the 1987-88 season, Smith tallied 55 points (12-43-55) while amassing 286 penalty minutes and helping the Oilers capture yet another Stanley Cup.
Over the course of the next few seasons, Smith continued his strong play at both ends of the ice, capturing his third Stanley Cup with the team in 1990. Smith went on to play one more season in Edmonton before being acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 1991-92 season. The three-time Stanley Cup champion had an immediate impact with Chicago, helping reach the Stanley Cup
Other than his three Stanley Cups wins with Edmonton, Steve Smith played in the 1991 NHL All-Star Game, and was a member of Team Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup.
Steve Smith is currently a member of the Edmonton Oilers coaching staff.