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I’ve only met Ryan Smyth once but he was just as friendly as you’d hope

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Photo credit:Edmonton Oilers
baggedmilk
8 months ago
Yesterday, we celebrated Smytty Day here at the Nation to mark the 15th anniversary of the trade that sent him to the New York Islanders. For a lot of us, the day he left town was just as heartbreaking as it was for our mulleted hero when he said goodbye in a tear-filled press conference out at the airport, and that’s why I was so happy to hear that we were going to do a look back at the man that meant so much to so many. Put another way, Ryan Smyth was the Oilers to a lot of fans and I wanted to take a minute to tell a quick story about the only time I met him and how I still think about it years later.

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Back in February of 2015, a group of us from Nation HQ flew out to Moose Jaw to cover the Ryan Smyth jersey retirement ceremony with the Warriors. That trip was the first time that I had ever really been anywhere with the company, and I was just excited to have the opportunity to tag along and never really expected that I would have the chance to meet the man of the hour. Meet Ryan Smyth at his own retirement ceremony? Never. I thought that maybe I’d get a chance to ask for an autograph or maybe even a picture, but I’m also a shy weirdo so I knew it was never going to happen if I had to figure out the logistics for myself. Either way, I was happy to be on the plane and heading to Moose Jaw to cover the event.
Once we got to Moose Jaw, I remember running around town to film some footage for the video above and wondering if the seats we had for that night’s Warriors game would be close enough to the ice so that I’d be able to get a good look at my hero. I loved Ryan Smyth more than anything and I thought it would be cool if I was able to show my dad some behind-the-scenes shots of the event. Again, I didn’t really know what to expect outside of the fact that we were in Moose Jaw to cover his jersey retirement as part of a partnership we had with Tourism Saskatchewan. I figured I would just be snapping a few shots on my iPhone 4 from our seats, that I’d post them on the Nation’s Twitter, and that would be that. What I didn’t know, however, was that I too would be on the ice along with the rest of the media before being ushered into a luxury box where the man himself would soon join us.
Once I found out I’d be sitting in the same box with Ryan Smyth, I started to feel anxious about what I would say if by random chance we ended up in a food line near each other or any other random occurrence where I’d be in his orbit. To be honest, my game plan was to stay out of the way and not say anything to anyone unless I was called upon, and by no means was I going to bother the guy when he had a million other things on his plate. The last thing I wanted was to meet one of my heroes and have him think I’m a dunce, ya know? For me, it was a much better idea to sit in the shadows and appreciate the situation for what it was — a cool opportunity with my job that I would never have had otherwise. Why make anything more of it than that, I thought to myself. I was in the same room and that was enough for me.
That’s when, out of the corner of my eye, I see Jason Gregor waving me over to talk to him. At first, I was going to ignore Gregor because I thought he wanted me to go get him another mustard salad — JG was keeping it real tight in those days, and instead of using a standard dressing like a normal person, he was running with the zero-calorie mustard option instead — but what he actually wanted was to introduce me to Ryan Smyth. Knowing that I would never have done it myself, Gregor called me over to join in on their conversation and meet a guy that I had cheered on for most of my life, and it’s a moment that I’m still incredibly grateful for because I truly didn’t think it would happen. As much as I was hoping to meet Smyth in some way, I had already resigned to the fact that it probably wasn’t in the cards, and that’s why I’ll always appreciate what Jason did for me.
After nervously stumbling over to where Gregor and Smytty were standing, Jason did a quick intro of who I was and what I do for the company and it seemed to pique Smyth’s interest. Not only did he shake my hand with enthusiasm and thank me for coming to his big night, he spent the next 10 minutes or so asking about my love for the Oilers, whether I had ever played hockey, and what it was like to cover the team I’ve loved my whole life. For Smyth, that interaction was probably just another variation of a conversation with a fan that he’s had 1000x at that point, but for me, it was incredibly special and meant something. To have the guy engage with me was enough to make my brain explode, but to have him show a legitimate interest in what I was asking him was what I remember the most.
While I guarantee that he would never remember this conversation happening in a million years if you asked him about it today, what mattered to me was that he was just as friendly and approachable as I always hoped he’d be. Ryan Smyth clearly understood what he meant to me as an Oilers fan but that never would have come across in the way he spoke or acted around someone that was clearly nervous about the whole thing. All-in-all, I was lucky enough to speak with Smytty for about 10 minutes, but that was enough to cement him in my heart and mind as one of the most generous human beings on earth.
A little bit later in the night, there was a break in the Warriors game and I worked up the courage to see if Smytty would sign my Nation hoodie and he happily agreed. As he was signing, I decided to take a swing and ask him another question. This time, I wanted to know what it was like to be an Oiler during the 2006 playoff run and play in a rink that was so loud that you couldn’t even hear yourself think. I wanted to know if there was any time to soak in what was happening during a time like that?
“Which game were you at?” he asked.
“Game 6 against Detroit.” I answered.
“Ah, you should have heard Game 6 against Carolina. It was a madhouse.”
My heart stopped. What a hero. It wasn’t like he gave some profound answer or anything, but he spoke to me eye to eye and not like I’m just some idiot blogger that writes about his life’s work. Throughout the rest of that night, Ryan Smyth was accomodating to absolutely anyone that stopped him to ask for a picture or to just say hello. Without hesitation, he signed countless items and shook even more hands. And for a guy that made more than $60+ million in his career, Ryan Smyth was one of the most grounded people you could ever hope to meet.  There was no ego, there was no superiority, there was just a guy that loved the game.
At the end of the day, Ryan Smyth said about 50 words to me in total when he really didn’t have to say anything at all. He didn’t have to come back to Moose Jaw for his jersey retirement, and he didn’t have to play shinny with a men’s league team the morning before the ceremony either, but Ryan Smyth is a guy that knows what hockey means to people and what he means to people. He probably met two hundred new people that day, and I bet he treated every one of them with the same courtesy as he did with me. In my books, Ryan Smyth is a gem of a human being and even though he’d never remember or know that we met, his kindness gave me a memory that will last for the rest of my life and I will always be grateful to him for it. Happy Smytty Day.

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