Smyth’s star shining in Colorado
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
It’s no wonder Ryan Smyth feels so comfortable with the Colorado Avalanche. After all, during his 11 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, the gritty left winger scored more points against Colorado than any other NHL club (41).
Make no mistake, Smyth still has strong ties to the Alberta capital. The Banff native wept when he was traded to the New York Islanders last season at the trade deadline after a contract dispute turned nasty. Facing the Oilers as a member of the visiting team for the first time on October 23 (a 4-2 Colorado win) was another emotional experience.
But now, Smyth is focused on winning his first-ever Cup with a new organization, and he’s happy with how he’s fitting in. “Obviously there’s always room for improvement,” the 31-year-old told Eishockey News. “You want to get respect when you come into a new locker room. You’ve just got to play hard and hopefully you get the end results.”
So far, the Avalanche has competed effectively against the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the Northwest Division under the leadership of Joe Sakic. Last season, the legendary Colorado captain became the only player in NHL history besides Gordie Howe to score 100 points at the age of 37 or older.
“Joe’s a great leader,” said Smyth, who signed a five-year, $31.25-million deal with Colorado as a free agent on July 1. “He made a couple of calls to me and was very interested in having me come here. The organization was first-class in terms of how they dealt with everything.”
Another player who’s impressed Smyth is center Paul Stastny, the 21-year-old son of former Quebec Nordiques superstar Peter Stastny. Coming off a 78-point rookie campaign, Stastny has already contended for a place in the league’s Top Ten scorers early this season.
“He’s excellent,” said Smyth. “He’s a guy that sees the ice well, and he’s very talented and composed for a young kid.”
As long as the goaltending tandem of Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore holds up, it looks like Colorado has a real chance to rebound from last year’s failure to make the playoffs. There’s firepower aplenty, especially with Smyth screening goalies and tipping home shots, and the defense has been stabilized with the addition of physical veteran Scott Hannan from San Jose.
Smyth is getting his second chance to play under coach Joel Quenneville. In 2004, Quenneville was supposed to head up Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic, but became ill just before the tournament started, and had to return home. Mike Babcock took over the reins and coached Canada to gold.
“I only spent two or three days with Joel at that time,” recalled Smyth, who’s known as “Captain Canada” for representing his country at seven straight World Championships and two Olympics. “They were playing the exhibition schedule, but I didn’t come over until later. Today, he’s very well-respected around the league. He demands a lot. He’s from the old school, and he’s a good coach.”
If Smyth continues to thrive in Denver, he’s on pace to hit the 300-goal and 600-point milestones in his NHL career this year. But he’s more concerned with rebuilding the club’s fearsome reputation. As recently as 2003, Colorado’s roster still included superstars like Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, and Patrick Roy, all of whom made the team a perennial Stanley Cup contender. Now it’s time to serve notice that the Avalanche can still get it done with a raft of new, young stars.
“Playing against the Avalanche for many years, I was well-aware of the respect they earned around the league. The history that they’ve made with their Stanley Cup victories really speaks for itself.”