In part one of my interview with Ryan Smyth he discussed retirement, his jersey retirement by the Moose Jaw Warriors happening tonight, being drafted and he talked about Ron Low benching him in the second game of the 1997 playoffs.
In part two we discuss many things, but he really caught me off guard with a story about what happened the night Chris Pronger’s shot hit him in the face.
Gregor: You mentioned (in part one) how that benching by Ron
Low really helped your career. Many feel that there should be a little more
tough love in Edmonton right now. I know you were on that team, so this might be a tough question, but
what are your thoughts on that?
Smyth: You know… It’s…. it’s a great
question because the situation that’s gone on here lately is frustrating for
all of us, from Oiler fans to management, to Daryl Katz and even the media coverage.
It’s not something that you want on a daily basis, or on a yearly basis, to be
out of the playoffs before or just after Christmas. Something needs to change.
organization has, in my mind, a solid GM and he’s going to be able to turn this
situation and everything around. He demands a lot and it looks like they’re
heading in the right direction with Todd Nelson at this point. You know, it’s
the old cliché, but time will tell. They are lucky; they have some really loyal
fans here which is awesome.
Now let’s get back to the career. You talked about the dream of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals and
you did that in a season where not a lot of people thought that you would. The
team made a lot of changes in 2006; [Chris] Pronger came in, [Michael] Peca
came in, [Jaroslav] Spacek, [Dick] Tarnstrom, [Sergei] Samsonov and [Dwayne]
Roloson. Let’s go back to the first series.
did Craig MacTavish say before that series against Detroit,
was thirty points better than you guys?
Smyth: We came together at the right time.
Obviously we were playing playoff hockey for the last two months of the season
and I think that that carried on right into the playoffs. Joe Louis arena is
obviously a tough building to play in and then you add the squid. That whole
debacle, and then the steak getting thrown on the ice back at home. Those
things add humour in our locker room which maybe relieved the pressure, and
allowed us to just go out, relax and play the game that we had been capable of
playing up until that point.
Those were nice little things that came about during that round, but
specifically about MacT. He came in and said, ‘We have earned to be here, we
have the right to be here whether we are in Joe Louis Arena or we are back at
home. We are here to play and we are here to compete.’ He was an excellent
speaker and obviously an excellent coach. He got the most out of every player.
He made a few speeches that really resonated with our group and he had a good
Gregor: You lose the first game in Detroit in overtime, you
give up fifty shots. A tough loss. You come into game two and make a lineup
change, and Brad Winchester of all players scores the game winning goal. What
was said on the flight home, or did it wait until the next day when someone spoke
Smyth: No, we chatted a lot and that was
the cohesiveness in our locker room or wherever we were. We were together and
we talked about every situation, where we can improve, where we can get better,
and where we thought we were good. We felt we were capable of raising the level
of play, we were capable of doing more, and I remember the fact that it’s not
just the super stars that end up winning the games for you.
You talked about Brad Winchester, that was a huge goal. (Fernando) Pisani was
incredible through the whole playoffs. We had guys that just wanted to play for
each other and that’s what the team was all about. We found a way to come
together for each other and it just, it was great chemistry and it worked out
phenomenally. On the flight we talked about how we are capable of beating this
team. We know they have some great players, but we’re capable of going head to
head against them. You need that belief and trust from everyone to win.
FACE OF A HOCKEY PLAYER
Gregor: We don’t need to re-live all of it,
because the end was painful for you, so speaking of pain how many times did you
break your nose?
Smyth: I’ve never broken it. [Laughs] I had
you there! No, I couldn’t’ tell you exactly how many.
Gregor: Double digits?
Smyth: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Gregor: Which was the worst one?
Smyth: Early in my career, my first game I
think was against Calgary,
I ended up chipping a tooth, but that wasn’t my nose. Zarley Zalapski got my
tooth. My worst painful experience was obviously losing my teeth, but my worst
nose experience was probably just getting hit from behind. I can’t remember
exactly who did it, but I got hit right into the boards and I believe it was in
don’t know what year it was and they just tried to pull it back into place in
the locker room. It was painful. That was painful.
Gregor: Ouch! Was Sparky (Equipment guy)
holding your hand when they had to do that? (chuckles)
Smyth: No, (laughs) that was JJ [Hebert]
after the Pronger’s situation.
Gregor: His slap
shot hit you right in the teeth. When he hit you, a lot of Oiler fans were
livid because they felt like he didn’t come over and check to make sure you
were okay. Did he ever apologize?
Smyth: He was probably out of breath for
crying out loud because he played so much. [laughs] Ah yes, he did. He was a
great soldier. Obviously he was instrumental in our run and obviously a Stanley
Cup winner himself.
Back to that situation, there were two
things that came about it. Okay, yes I lost my teeth, so I went back to the bench and
go straight to the locker room. As I’m walking back to the locker room there
are these doors in the tunnel, they’re closed, and I’m really frustrated so I
push open the door. And there is an usher lady right in behind the door, and I
end up hitting her and she goes down. I feel terrible, but the doctors are
saying come on let’s go, we’ve got to get you stitched up and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s something bad that
happened with that lady.’ And sure enough, she ends up breaking her arm.
Gregor: You broke her arm!?
Smyth: Yeah, and I felt so bad.
Gregor: (Laughs) I shouldn’t’ laugh.
Smyth: (Laughing) Yeah, and then I get back
into the locker room and I’ve got three lips. My upper lip is split wide open,
and then my teeth are gone and the dentist checks my teeth and there is no
nerve damage, thankfully. Then Doctor Reid is about to stitch up my lip right
and he says, ‘This is going to be a little bit sore.’ I’m thinking okay, sure and I said to JJ, ‘Get over here,
I need to hold your hand.’ I squeezed the snot out of his hand as the
needle went into my top lip. It was so painful. It was awful. And then once
I was stitched up, I went back out there.
Gregor: Now was it the type of pain that
makes your eyes water, but you’re not crying?
Smyth: Yup. That’s exactly what it was and
to this day, I mean I’ve broken so many bones, but that was the most painful
thing I’ve ever had. That needle right in that top lip. It hurts thinking about
Gregor: You’ve been one of the most popular
players in Edmonton
because of all of the stuff you do away from the game, signing autographs and
giving kids pucks. So the usher lady, did you track her down? Did she get a
Smytty jersey for the broken arm?
Smyth: I don’t remember what she got. She
got something from us whether it was a bobble head or a hockey stick or something
but I felt so bad for her. She was good about it. She was happy we won.
Gregor: You went back and finished the game, was your mouth still frozen? Could you feel anything?
Smyth: It was frozen at the start. It was
numb and obviously we continued into the second period of overtime and then the
numbness wore off. But the adrenalin is still going because you are still a
part of the game, but it was pretty sore later that night that’s for sure.
Gregor: That added to the legend of Smytty
in Edmonton. It
wasn’t Ryan Smyth to most fans, it was Smytty. You were one of the most popular
players during your tenure in Edmonton.
Why do you think you were so popular with the fans?
Smyth: Well you know what, I felt like I
knew every single person. I look back, not only my whole career but I look back
at that final game last year. It meant so much to me that they stuck around and
they acknowledge and showed their appreciation. I felt like I knew every single
person in that building. My wife and I and our four children, we love this city
and this is where we call home. I don’t have any desire to go anywhere else.
It’s a great city. For all of those free agents, this is where to come. It’s a
great place, it’s a hockey market, great loyal fans, people that care about not
only you the hockey player, but they care about you as a person.
Gregor: Let’s talk about the trade. Everybody saw
the tears at the airport. Obviously you were frustrated to go. The story for
the past eight years mentioned you and the Oilers were only a $100,000 apart,
but neither side wanted to give. Was it that close? Did it come down to a
battle of wills, and looking back to do you think both sides should
have met in the middle?
Smyth: Yeah, there was obviously some lead
up to it all. There’s always differences. There’s two sides to every story, and
at the end of the day it was us digging our feet in and them digging theirs in
and it was unfortunate that it had to happen because I would have loved to have
been a lifelong Oiler. I look at guys that have stayed on their same team for
their whole career. It’s a pretty special thing, like a Steve Yzerman, Joe
Sakic, Shane Doan will probably be one of them, and the list goes on. I’m not
going to sit here and say it was this much or that much, at the end of the day,
they had differences and we did too. I experienced the other side and I was
grateful to come back.
Gregor: You went to Long
Island for a short time then had a few years in Colorado
and Los Angeles.
What were the differences from Edmonton
to those organizations, pros and cons?
Smyth: Well, like I alluded to it earlier
on. We just snuck in to the playoffs with the Islanders. With the Kings, we
were sixth or something and pretty much every other time we were legit eighth
seed all of the time getting into the playoffs. So from that front it was the
I got to experience different coaches, different cities and being down in the
states in a different market compared to how it is in Canada.
Obviously we are very proud of our country and extremely passionate about
hockey. I’m grateful I got to experience that in a Canadian city, and like I
said before, coming back here is something that I always wanted. I wanted to be
a part of this city and maybe one day down the line I would like to be part of the
Gregor: You also had the moniker Captain Canada. Excluding
the Olympics, because that one is pretty obvious, which other time was your
most memorable moment representing Canada?
Smyth: Being a part of Team Canada
is obviously a tremendous honour but saying all that, I believe players should go
any time you get an opportunity or a call from your country. Whether it is for the
States, Europe or Canada,
go. Be a part of it.
It trains your body and trains your mind to
be playing at that time of the year. You don’t get that if you’re out of the
playoffs. It is a whole new season when they play in the playoffs and
representing your country at the World Championships trains you for an extra
month at least.
I was fortunate enough to play on so many
different ones. One that was really special to me, other than the Olympics,
probably was the second World Championship that we won. We won our first one
and it was just surreal, but I didn’t feel like I was as much of a factor as I
was the second time we won. That was in 2004, and it was also special because
we had a few Oilers on the team.
Gregor: Going back quickly to 2006 and
Pronger. You played with him, you played against him. Were you even a bit
surprised about how much he could elevate his game in the playoffs?
Smyth: He was phenomenal. He was a true
leader on and off of the ice. He ate well, he played a lot of minutes and he
took care of his body. When you know that guys do that on a consistent basis,
you know that he’s a true professional. He was a true leader whether he had a
letter on his jersey or not. I believe he had an “A”. Jason Smith, he gave it
his all and that’s for sure why he was a captain and a guy that everybody
looked up to for what he did, but Pronger, just his ability to be simple. Get
the puck out, get up ice, defend, good stick, hard to play against. Did
everything so well and he was so consistent all the time.
Gregor: You never wore the “C” fulltime,
but you were an associate caption. You weren’t a rah rah guy, so when you look
back on your career how do you feel you led?
Smyth: Um… just by example. You go out and
compete. On the ice was where I felt free and felt really where I could lead.
Like you said, I’m not a rah rah guy. If I had to say something I would, but we
had a good bunch of guys that could do that. I look at, you talked about
Pisani, he was a leader in his own right. He found a way to step up, whether it
was killing penalties, scoring shorthanded goals to scoring big goals.
Everybody felt like they were a leader at some point whether they had a letter
or not. But you knew the guys that were obviously well respected in our
hierarchy so to speak.
Gregor: Who was the strongest guy you ever
Smyth: Adam Foote.
Gregor: I just saw him coaching here in Edmonton. He was at the
John Reid Bantam AAA tournament.
Smyth: Isn’t his son playing?
Gregor: His son was named to all star team. He is defenceman and wore number 52.
Smyth: Of course he was.
Gregor: Toughest guy that you saw in the
NHL during your time?
Smyth: Georges Laraque. He was pretty
tough. But I would throw Gazzy [Luke
Gazdic] up there right now.
Gregor: He throws out bombs doesn’t he?
Smyth: Oh my gosh, and he can take a punch.
I can go back to my first era too. [Bob]
Probert is definitely up there.
Gregor: Steve MacIntyre was pretty tough
Smyth: [Raitis] Ivanans. Oh my goodness.
Gregor: You saw that on the highlights I’m
Smyth: He was my former teammate down in
LA. MacIntyre, that’s a good one. Huge mitts on him.
Gregor: Who was the dirtiest guy that you
played against? And that can be a compliment, depending on who you’re talking
Smyth: I want to say [Jeremy] Roenick.
Smyth: No, actually it wasn’t Roenick, it
was Tocchet. Rick Tocchet took my knee out. Yeah, he would be up there
Gregor: I was amazed how despite all of
the cheap shots, cross checks and sticks you took over the years you always
seemed to be able to control your temper, and very few players can do that playing
the style you played. Were you just not a fighter or do you have incredible
Smyth: No, it takes me a tremendous amount
to lose my fuse, and I actually did take boxing lessons with Daryl Duke (former
strength coach) at the time.
Gregor: Was that after he beat Georges in
that sparring contest?
Smyth: (laughs) No I think it was just
before that. But I did that for off season training, just more for confidence
and thankfully I didn’t have to use it very much. I think three or four times
in my career. But I didn’t want to put the team in jeopardy and I couldn’t
score from the box. Why would I go in the box?
Gregor: Makes perfect sense. So then the few times you
did really get mad, who was it, what caused you to finally lose it?
Smyth: One was Grant Marshall in Anaheim at the time. He
just drove me nuts. He just kept cross checking me and then finally I just lost
it. And we ended up having a little fight and then I don’t know, I think I did
Gregor: Marshall was a pretty tough dude, so at least
you weren’t a spot picker, you weren’t going after a flyweight.
Smyth: I should have been (laughs). I just
didn’t feel that having me in the box would do any good.
Gregor: What did you say to [JS] Giguere,
when he lost his marbles?
Smyth: I didn’t say one word to him. I hit
the top of his stick and the puck went between his legs.
Gregor: Just one time?
Smyth: I knocked the top of his stick, it
was like a trick play. The ref wouldn’t see it. I just hit the top, and then it
Gregor: On purpose?
Gregor: And was that the first time you’d
had ever done it to him?
Smyth: No, I had done it a couple of times.
But he made the save, and this time he didn’t. And then he did lose it. I think
that was the game that Grant Marshall was on that team and then I ended up
Gregor: He just went bananas. I hadn’t seen
a goalie lose his marbles like that since [Ron] Hextall.
Smyth: Yep, and that’s exactly what
happened. I just hit the top of his stick.
Gregor: Your ability to deflect pucks,
where did you learn it? Who gave you the advice to do it because it’s really a
lost art. We don’t see many players who are consistently willing to pay the price
in front of the net and have good enough hand eye coordination to get that
Smyth: Well of all of the great people that
I’ve crossed in the hockey world, I owe a lot to, there’s been a great amount
of trainers that I’ve adopted over the years and still keep in contact with. Barry
Stafford was one of them, and this is no word of a lie, he said try to get
three hits, three shots and go to the net every single time you can, per game.
That’s what you try to do and you’ll have a good career.
And then I guess over that course of trying
to get three hits, trying to get the shots, going to the net is the biggest
thing. You’ve got to go to the net. What’s the puck going to do? It’s going to
the net, so at the end of the day you might as well get your body there.
I developed it, I did do it a bit down in Moose Jaw, but more so
when I was here and I just constantly practiced it. So I challenge every player
or every kid out there, keep working, keep practicing because you can get better
at things and you can always improve.
It was a pleasure to have Smyth in studio with me for over an hour on Tuesday. I always enjoyed speaking with him over the years, but yesterday was the best interview i’d had with him. He shared some great stories, Magical sneaker and Usher lady. I really wanted to have him on the show before his jersey retirement tonight in Moose Jaw, and I was very happy he obliged.
I’ll be doing my show from Moose Jaw this afternoon and Smyth will join me again at 3 p.m. to talk exclusively about his time in the Jaw. Tonight will be a very special for him and his wife Stacey. They met in Moose Jaw and that is where she grew up. I’ve had the pleasure of being at all the Oilers jersey ceremonies, except Al Hamilton, and I’ve watched many others on TV. I really enjoy them, so I’m looking forward to this evening.
Finally, I really liked how Smyth ended our conversation with his advice to players and kids. “Keep working, keep practicing because you can get better
at things and you can always improve.”
I think that relates to all of us in any aspect of our lives.
Enjoy tonight Smytty, you’ve earned it.
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