Checking in with Captain Canada
Thursday, 16 August 2007
Originally published on IHWC.NET in 2004
By Lucas Aykroyd
In the science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a computer announces that “the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything” is 42. In Ryan Smyth’s hockey life, that statement has some truth to it. The 6-1, 190-pound Edmonton Oilers winger had to play 42 games at five straight IIHF World Championships before finally claiming the gold medal with Canada in 2003. Smyth, 28, captained the Maple Leaf squad at the last three tournaments, starting in 2001 when he took over the “C” after an injury to Michael Peca. Now he’s preparing to defend Canada’s title in Prague. IHWC.NET’s Lucas Aykroyd recently caught up with the Banff native and Olympic gold medallist to discuss his starry history in international hockey.
IHWC.NET: What is it about the team culture of the Oilers that makes players regularly answer the bell when invited to join Team Canada and other national sides?
Ryan Smyth: We should be playing at that time of the year anyways. It’s an honor to play for your country. Some people take the attitude that it’s a long season and they want to heal their bumps and bruises. And that’s fine. If guys have aches and pains, it’s maybe better that they don’t go. But we’re a young team and we like to play hockey. We’ve answered the bell many times.
IHWC.NET: Besides Anson Carter’s winning goal, what were some of your favorite memories from Finland?
Smyth: Beating Germany in the quarter-finals to move on was one. Eric Brewer scored the goal with a big shot from the point. It was great. You know, every game we improved. We had some challenges, like the 2-2 tie against the Danes. Those sorts of things build character during the ride to the gold medal.
IHWC.NET: How satisfying was it to defeat a stacked Swedish team with the likes of Sundin and Forsberg?
Smyth: Well, you have to give credit to guys like Shane Doan and Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby there. They stuck it to Forsberg and Sundin and Sweden’s key players. We played hard against those guys. That was really a turning point for us in that final game.
IHWC.NET: Hypothetically, how do you think the 2003 edition of Team Canada could have done in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Smyth: [laughs] We’ll never know! It was a great bunch of guys, with talent and skill and grit. We were determined to play. But sure, it would have been nice to see what could have happened with that scenario.
IHWC.NET: Based on your experiences in international competition, what would you think about the NHL adopting the international-sized ice surface?
Smyth: This is our game. It’s a different game. We believe it’s a great game. Sure, it could use a few adjustments here and there. But no, I think what we’ve got here now is pretty good.
IHWC.NET: As the winner of Olympic and World Championship gold medals, it must be pretty satisfying for you to have accomplished things that guys like Wayne Gretzky and Ray Bourque never did as players.
Smyth: Yeah. It’s a great honor. Salt Lake City, especially, was a fun atmosphere. The leaders on that team did a phenomenal job of making the younger guys feel comfortable there. I haven’t won a Stanley Cup, but that ranks up there as one of my best hockey experiences ever.
IHWC.NET: It seems like Canadians right now have an insatiable appetite for international hockey at all levels. Do you see that as a trend that’ll just continue growing into the future, or is it tied to the success the country’s had recently?
Smyth: Canada breeds some great hockey players. But there are only a few that get to play in the NHL. International hockey is a step up from a lot of things. But whether you’re at the World Championships, the World Juniors, the Olympics, or the World Cup, you’re playing against the elite players in the game. Winning is the best feeling. The international experience is something that’s come a long ways.