Earlier this week the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced that Ryan Smyth will be inducted into their Hall of Fame this year. Smyth won gold at the 1995 World Junior Championships, then played eight times at the World Championships, winning gold in 2003 and 2004 and silver in 2005, won gold at the World Cup of Hockey in 2004, a gold at the 2012 Spengler Cup and the pinnacle of his career: the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics.
He holds the Canadian record for most games played at the World Championships (60), and represented Canada in 13 different tournaments: World Juniors once, World Championships eight times, one World Cup, the Spengler Cup and twice at the Olympics.
He earned the nickname Captain Canada and is very deserving of his entry into the IIHF Hall of Fame.
He will enter the IIHF HOF along with Russian Alexei Yashin, Finlan’s Kimmo Timonen and Switerzland’s Mathias Seger and Mark Streit.
I spoke with Smyth on my TSN 1260 radio show on Wednesday about the honour, his favourite memories playing Internationally as well as how he is enjoying life in Nashville.
Jason Gregor: When did you receive the news that you were going into the Hall?
Ryan Smyth: This weekend, I got a call from President Rene Fasel. I had no idea, like none whatsoever. It shocked me. I was actually driving to pick up my kids. I had to stop and pull over, I didn’t know what expect, but I’m very honoured and very humbled.
Did he just call you up and say, “Hi Ryan, its Rene Fasel. How you doing? And by the way you’re inducted into the Hall of Fame.” Is that pretty much how it goes?
Yeah, somewhat like that. He said there will be a guy calling you about this and that, but you’ll be coming in April, or that’s what I thought he said (laughs), which is not around the World Championships which are in May. Anyways I got the email the next day with all of it outlined so it was special.
Is the whole family going with you in May?
Yeah, the ceremony is at the World Championships between the semi-finals and the finals. They do a presentation in Zurich. I’m going to bring the whole family and we’re going to maybe do a little trip after. Down here in Nashville school is out at the end of May so it works out perfect.
What was your first time representing Canada? Was it the World Juniors?
We did a camp when I was 17. I played for team Pacific at the U17, and that wasn’t for Canada. Then when I was 18 I played as well, but back then they didn’t have any big tournaments so I just played inter-squad stuff and got a feel for what it’s all about, and then obviously the World Juniors in Red Deer, Calgary, and Edmonton. That was my first real exposure to it.
It started there at the World Juniors in your own province, then numerous World Championships, but I have to think the Olympics was the best moment for you representing Canada.
Yeah, growing up as a kid, you don’t think of playing in the Olympics, you think of playing in the NHL first. When I was a little kid, NHL players were not a part of the Olympics so that didn’t even cross my mind. Obviously the World Juniors, Canada/Russia Series, all that kind of stuff was cool and exciting, but for sure the Olympics being once every four years is special.
How everything went down with Gretz (Wayne Gretzky) heading it up, the best players in the NHL like Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, the list goes on and on, with many hall of famers too.
Eric Brewer, Ed Jovanoski, and myself were the young guys, a part of this huge dynasty of excellent hall of famers, and you just wanted to soak it all in and we did that for sure in Salt Lake City. I think it was a great moment for sure when you beat the US on US soil, but it was just a lot of fun to learn so much from these excellent hockey players that I grew up idolizing.
You grew up idolizing them but you kind of have to push that aside, and play like you belong there with them.
(Laughs) I don’t know if I could have ever done that (belong with them), but I tried too. It was tough for sure. You didn’t have too many practices but when we did you’re trying to be involved and trying to learn and understand what the systems are, but you’re also like, “Oh my gosh, that was amazing, look what he did there.”
And then you’re getting into games and they are doing the same things. I think that was the exciting part for me, you’re sitting on the bench and you see these guys do it time and time again and that’s what makes these guys the best, the consistency in their game. That’s what I tried to do, play my game and bring my assets to the game in Salt Lake because they felt like I was needed for something, and to be a part of it instead of being a spectator and watching. It was incredible.
A lot of guys wouldn’t go over to the World Championships, so what enticed you to go every year, including seven in a row, and how did you convince Stacey (wife) to let you go every year?
(Laughs) I think that was sometimes the stepping stone, seeing if Stace would be alright with it. She knew I had a great passion for it, she felt she should come along and support me as she always had during my time in the NHL. When I got asked in 1999 (in Norway), it was my first experience and Adam Graves was my roommate, and obviously he’s an icon with what he brings as a leader to any locker room.
Again I was soaking it all in from guys like Graves and Joe Thornton, and that is really when it was kick started for me. Graves would say, “Why not come? It trains your mind, it trains your body, and you should be playing this time of year anyway. If you get an opportunity to get called, go.”
Along with my passion for the game and guys like him saying that, it was a no-brainer. You meet great players from around the league; you get to play alongside of them, maybe your buddies from here on in. I developed great relationships with guys from just playing at the World Championships and being a part of team Canada.
So it was always a good experience, but less stressful than the Stanley Cup playoff?
Yeah, you’re right there. Obviously it’s less magnified because you’re not being televised over there as much unless you get into the later rounds but yeah, it was enjoyable. You could enjoy yourself away from the game just as much as you could during the game. You grew fast and quick as a group because you had to, and to be successful that’s what you had to do as a group.
In Nashville, do you follow the Oilers or Preds, or are you just enjoying being a dad?
Oh I follow it, my son is a hockey nut which is kind of cool. He’s a big Joe Pavelski fan but he still cheers for the Sharks because he likes the logo. I keep tabs on it for sure. I’ve taken my kids to a few Preds games. It was interesting to see the battle of the Alberta like it used to be the other night.
I didn’t see it all but I saw some of it, and obviously when they started going at it with some of the fighting, to me that shows the true rivalry in the Battle of Alberta. You sit back and listen to the old Oilers and Flames talk — there wasn’t one or two fights, there was four or five. Not that fighting is the end all be all, but it brings that much more emotion and energy to the game. And that’s what brings out the life. It brought back so many memories when that happened.
How different was it playing on the bigger international ice, and did you like it less compared to the NHL rink size?
Well my game was more around the net area so I like the tighter type of game. Where you really notice it is in behind the net and obviously from the dots out. When I would get the puck coming in from the dots it felt like it was forever to get to the net. I think the 200×85 game is where it’s at. The game is bigger, stronger, and faster but to me the true talent comes in the hands of guys in close and tight and how they make those nice moves and protect the puck. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the international ice, but I do enjoy the 200×85 game more.
HOCKEY IN NASHVILLE…
Your son is playing hockey in Nashville. How is the minor hockey system in Nashville?
There are pros and cons to it just like everywhere, but I will say it’s pretty decent, and hats off to the Predators organization for what they have done for the last six or seven years because it has created a trickle down affect in minor hockey. The growth of the game is a lot stronger.
On Alex’s team we have seven players from Nashville, six from Atlanta, two from Knoxville, and two from Huntsville. We do high performance weekends in Atlanta or here in Nashville and do “practice weekends” where we work on systems, compared to in Edmonton where you work on it during the week.
Here we do individual skills during the week, so there are pros to it. We spoke off the air yesterday briefly about the individual side of skill at a young age. I think it is very important, I do believe in the team side of it — obviously I’m a team-first mentality person — but as an individual you need to work on how to skate, how to handle the puck, how to hold on to it, how to protect it, so there is a huge onus on individual development down here.
The team side lacks. When you go to Detroit or Buffalo, where these programs practice all week so when you play them you’re a little bit behind the eight ball, but these kids work hard and I’ll take work over skill every day.
Is Alex growing out the Smyth mullet?
No, he doesn’t like it (laughs). He shaves the back, but he loves to play. He’s a little centerman. He loves the game which is great.
Are you playing rec league in Nashville and do you still like to get on the blades?
I do. There’s a men’s league here and it’s actually pretty good. There’s a lot of former Division one and two NCAA players. Guys who are young and fast and it’s good to push the pace. JP Dumont is down here and some of the alumni and we’ll do a Wednesday morning skate, three-on-three at a smaller rink not too far from here. Getting out a couple times a week is kind of cool. I still enjoy the game, I still like to allow the kids to grow from it and teach the excitement of the game so I also help out coaching and that’s special.
Are you still deflecting pucks every day or are you more of a disher and shooter in men’s league?
I shuffle the puck around. As a coach you shuffle one corner to the next corner. As far as playing in men’s league, I just pass it up, maybe go to the net every once and a while (laughs).
Congrats again on a great honour and enjoy the trip with your family to Zurich in May.
Thanks Gregs. Thanks for having me on and say hi to Struds for me.
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