Smyth and Fogolin Discuss the Oilers Hall of Fame
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor6 months ago
Last night Lee Fogolin and Ryan Smyth were inducted into the newly formed Edmonton Oilers Hall of Fame. It was an incredibly humbling experience for both men. I was lucky enough to attend the luncheon, the pre-game ceremony and the after-game festivities in the player’s lounge.
I had a great visit with Lee and his wife Carol. They knew each other in high school, and Carol proudly boasted she was a senior and he was a junior, so they were just friends then. But a few years later, they happened to run into each other at a bar. She had to work the next morning at 6 a.m. and didn’t want to go, but her friends told her they’d stop in for a quick one. Her and Lee ended up talking until 3 a.m. and he called her the next day and asked her out for dinner. The rest is history. She was very happy and proud to see her husband inducted into the Oilers Hall of Fame last night.
Lee is a very quiet and humble man. But he was a ferocious competitor and well respected by his teammates. Carol shared with me that Wayne Gretzky called Lee on Wednesday and they had a long chat. “Both of them were crying by the end,” she smiled. “This means so much to Lee and his teammates. It was wonderful.”
Lee kept telling me how honoured and humbled he was. He was also very excited about how many letters he received from players he coached in minor hockey. They told him what a great coach and mentor he was, and they were all proud to see their coach be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Lee was incredibly happy to hear from them and how well they were doing. Former NHLer, and current Washington Capitals scout Brian Sutherby flew in to see his former minor hockey coach get inducted. Another of Lee’s former players, Reid Nichol, gave me a letter he wrote to Lee and asked me to deliver it. I passed it on to Lee on Wednesday, and last night at the post-game celebration he raved about it and the other letters he had received. He was so happy to read how his players are doing. He is excited to reach out to them and catch up.
This moment met so much to him on many levels. It was great to see.
I’ve gotten to know Ryan and Stacey Smyth quite well the past few years. I sat with them for the luncheon and Stacey told me all about their 17-acre farm outside Nashville. They have horses, chickens, a huge garden and she is getting a few milk cows when they return. “We lived my dream for many years, and now we are living Stacey’s,” Ryan smiled. Stacey is the hands-on farmer, she says, while her husband drives the tractor and does lots of the grunt work. But she’s in charge of the animals and the garden.
Their children Isabella, Elisabeth, Alexander and Gabrielle were all in attendance. Gabrielle, the youngest, doesn’t remember much of Edmonton as she only lived here a few years, and she was quite surprised “people want to hear Daddy speak,” smiled Stacey. Alex plays hockey, and the Smyth’s were flying to Chicago today to meet up with Alex’s hockey team for a tournament. Isabella runs a hockey academy, and Ryan is her employee. The players range in age from 6-18. Some are just learning hockey, while others play on rep teams. Hockey is really growing in the Nashville/Tennesee area, and Isabella is loving helping kids fall in love with the game and improve their skills.
I sat down with Ryan on Wednesday to discuss his upcoming induction, and his time with the Oilers.
Jason Gregor: Smytty, we’ve done this for many years, but now I can say Ryan Smyth, Edmonton Oilers Hall of Fame. How does that feel for you?
Ryan Smyth: I’m pretty honoured. I never would have expected it to come to this but, [I’m] very humbled through this situation. To be going in with Lee Fogolin makes it even more special.
As we heard today with the press conference and with the stories he tells and how exciting it was for me to listen to because I grew up loving the Oilers and wanting to be an Oiler and now I’m a Hall of Famer. It is amazing.
Gregor: Does that make it more special for you because you were a diehard Oilers fan growing up and you were lucky enough to play for the team that you were rooting for. You watched Fogolin’s generation, and so not only do you get to go the Hall of Fame, but for the next few days you’re having dinner with these guys and getting to hear all of those stories. Is this the greatest time for Ryan Smyth the fan?
Smyth: Oh, most definitely. I mean jeez, the stories that these guys can tell for days, and I would be sitting on that TV watching, and now to see it from this side of it is kind of special.
[Being] A kid from Banff, Glen Sather is from Banff, Barry Stafford is from Banff, there is a little bit of a connection of the Banff side of things, but overall, Alberta boy, I want to clarify, [Paul] Coffey had said something up there about being a Calgary Flames fan. I was NOT. I was an Oilers fan through and through (laughs).
Gregor: Paul Coffey told me he was talking to you, and he feels you are doing exactly what you should be doing right now, coaching your son. That’s what he did when he retired because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. And when your son is past the point where dad can coach him, do you want to get back into hockey, have you thought about that at all?
Smyth: No, I haven’t. Early on, I thought that I did, but I’m glad that I did step away. I think it gives me more time to process and think things through. I’m really content right now and happy being in Nashville. We have a farm; we’ve got some animals. I still coach my son. I work for my daughter now. That seems weird, but she runs a sports academy. So, there are a lot of great things happening right now. I still haven’t processed that next level stuff yet.
Gregor: So, here we are. It’s Wednesday, tomorrow is the ceremony. What goes through your mind? Rehearse your speech a few times? It is a pretty big event, it’s a pretty emotional time, you’re an emotional guy, so how do you envision tomorrow going?
Smyth: Well, I was up this morning, early, reading through my script just to see if I can get through it. I’m an emotional guy, like you said. So we’ll see. I mean at the end of the day, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m emotional, I’m a passionate guy and it’s about the fans here and I just want to pass it on to somebody else that can be touched.
Gregor: You played in Edmonton a long time and there are lots of players who played in Edmonton. You really resonated with the fan base. Ryan Smyth, Smytty as the fans called you, was somebody that most fans respected because you could score goals, but you blocked shots, you would kill penalties, you’re a blue-collar player in a blue-collar town. Do you think that was why you really connected to fans, or was it just the mullet (laughs)?
Smyth: (Laughs) I would like to say both, but…they talked about Dave Semenko, and how fans respected him, and I know Kevin [Lowe] mentioned that and the blue-collar town. To me, I just wanted to leave it all out that. It would be an honour to be in that category with him from that side of things. At the end of the day, I just wanted to do what I could for the organization, for my teammates, and it was hard at times, but there were times that you would find yourself cheating the game, and it’s like no, you’ve got to get back to playing simple, playing the right way. And now it’s trying to pass on to my son and his teammates and stuff like that. So, yeah, I resonated really well with fans. I felt like I knew every single fan and obviously I didn’t, but I appreciated what they recognized and I’m very thankful.
Gregor: When you were in it, did you know you were that big of a fan favourite, did you feel it?
Smyth: Yeah, I mean… you don’t feel the intensity of it all until obviously the last game when I retired and how every fan was pretty much out of their seat and very appreciative of what I had accomplished. But when you’re in the thick of it, you’re just another player playing as hard as you can for your team. But it was very humbling.
Gregor: 2006 was a great run for you personally, but really for the city. The team hadn’t had a lot of success for a long time. The fan base, and really, a generation of fans who got that close and were along for the ride with you. And now you see the Edmonton Oilers, they have [Connor] McDavid, and they’ve got [Leon] Draisaitl and the Oilers look like they are a competitive team once again. Is it easier to be an alumnus when the team is doing well?
Smyth: Oh for sure! I mean, especially if you are around the city. I mean everything is going well and everyone is talking like, ‘Oh yeah what do you think of these guys’ and this and that.
When the going gets tough you find out who people are and people do care about the Oilers, especially here in the city. They want the next thing and that’s winning the Cup, and they’re not too far off. These boys, obviously I saw a game last night, and I’ve watched them for the start of this year and the playoff run last year. It’s special to watch McDavid, Draisaitl, but guys like Nuge, Nuge is finding his way. I know he’s already 10 plus years in the league and he’s a guy that is counted on, but he’s under the radar because of these other two or three guys who are shining. It’s great for the organization, and great for players like him.
Gregor: When you watch the game, do you see a lot of 94 in number 18 (Hyman)?
Smyth: Yeah, I’m not quite as fast as he was, or is. He’s not afraid to go to those tough areas. I like how he competes, he does it all. He plays well in his own zone, can score, which is great. I mean I was saying to a buddy yesterday, if I could just go to the net with my stick on the ice I would probably get a few with these guys throwing the puck at me. But I’ll tell you, McDavid, Draisaitl, they make players around them better, and Hyman is one of those players.
Gregor: You played on the Olympic team, and you got to play with the greats and feel a part of that. You’ve seen elite talent up close. What impresses you most about Draisaitl?
Smyth: His poise. His vision. He is such a great passing. Obviously, his backhanded passing is phenomenal. But just his poise and his puck protection, he’s strong, but he also can skate. But he slows the game down to his level and then can pick it up just like that. I think that he is dynamic from different speeds.
Gregor: I want to bring it back to Ryan Smyth going into the inaugural Hall of Fame with Lee Fogolin. When you look back do you have a few moments in time as an Oiler that at any moment, you’re driving your car, or talking to your son or your daughters and boom these memories pop up. What are some of those for Ryan Smyth?
Smyth: There was always this one, when we would drive to the rink. It was on Yellowhead, and you come off of Yellowhead and you turn onto Wayne Gretzky drive and you see the city. You see Northlands, or Rexall at that time, and then you see Commonwealth stadium, and to me, it was just special coming up there. I got to drive that most days, for practice and games. Sometimes twice a day and somebody ended up painting me a canvas of it. And it was huge. I can’t wait to put it up, I don’t have the space for it right at this moment, but that to me, was the City of Champions. And it emulated not only from the hockey standpoint, but football too.
Gregor: You had a great career in Edmonton, second most games played ever, top 10 in scoring, top five in goals. If somebody had never seen Ryan Smyth play for the Edmonton Oilers, how would you describe your tenure as a member of the Edmonton Oilers?
Smyth: Very blessed, very fortunate to play as long as I did. Fourteen, almost fifteen years here. I tried to lay it all out there every night. Some days it was harder than others, but it was a ride I’ll never forget, and it was something that I cherish. God gave me a great gift and a talent to be passionate too. To play with poise and excitement on a daily basis so I was very fortunate to play for as long as I did.
Gregor: Congratulations on this honour. Well deserved.
Smyth: Thanks Gregs. Thank you, the committee, the Oilers and the fans. It means more than I can describe.
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