Through 13 appearances and six top-of-the-podium finishes, no one represented Canada on the international stage quite like Ryan Smyth
Ryan Smyth calls his career ‘a journey.’
And while special pursuits never start out with extraordinary intent, his was one that evolved into an unprecedented adventure in Canadian hockey filled with friendships, memories and championships by its conclusion.
Over time, Canada has produced countless special and gifted hockey players, but Smyth is unique and truly synonymous with Canadian hockey and the embodiment of what a player from this nation represents.
“He’s a leader,” says former Hockey Canada boss Bob Nicholson, now CEO and vice-chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group. “He was a greasy, gritty player. When you talk about Canadian hockey on the international realm, names like Henderson and Gretzky come to mind, but Ryan Smith is right there.
He played on the edge and didn’t take penalties and had the Canadian grit. He’s done more for Canada than any other player in Canada.”
Smyth spent 18 seasons in the National Hockey League, mostly with the Edmonton Oilers but also with Colorado, the New York Islanders and Los Angeles. In total he played 1,270 games, racking up 386 goals and 842 points.
And while he was denied a Stanley Cup during his career, his Oilers did advance to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals before dropping a heartbreaking 3-1 decision in Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes.
But it was the international arena that was a special place for Smyth. He first represented Canada as an 18-year-old at the 1995 IIHF World Junior Championship in Red Deer, Alta.
It was a tournament where Canada captured its third straight gold medal (and became the first team to ever go a perfect 7-0), and a starting point that would eventual spawn an incredible run for Smyth in red and white.
“I remember that tournament very well,” he says. “It was very special with respect to putting on that Maple Leaf, being in Canada, representing our country and full well knowing the other countries would dig in really hard, especially against Canada. It was very intense and very life giving.”
During a stellar international career, Smyth would play a record 89 games for Team Canada over 15 years. He amassed 23 goals and 47 points while becoming the only player to win six gold medals in a combination of competitions that included the Olympic Winter Games, World Cup, IIHF World Championship (two times), World Juniors and Spengler Cup.