At this point, most readers are aware that Ryan Smyth was one of my favourite players of his generation; he kept the Edmonton Oilers' flame lit for his entire tenure (1994-2007, 2011-14), in addition to posting decent numbers with the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings - though he was clearly not an ideal fit on the latter two, despite what the numbers say.
However, last night, he suffered an injury when he received an elbow to the head right after scoring a goal in the Chinook Hockey League final, as his Stony Plain Eagles are facing the Lacombe Generals for the right to represent Alberta in the Allan Cup championship, the Stanley Cup of senior-league hockey.
The Hockey News went so far as to suggest his assailant, Kyle Sheen, is a goon - not just an enforcer, but a brute and thug - who shouldn't even be on the same sheet of ice as Smyth. The video in their opinion piece does, indeed, seem to confirm just that.
Smyth isn't just the Eagles' captain or an Oiler alumnus; he's Captain Canada, for fuck's sake. Every single year his NHL teams failed to make the playoffs despite his giving every ounce of energy to attain that goal, he answered Team Canada's call for the World Championships and proudly wore the "C" atop the maple leaf, usually on his way to a gold medal.
The way Canada usually convinces young players (say a Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Aaron Ekblad or Ryan O'Reilly) to join those teams after disappointing seasons is with a bit of a bribe: "come play with us, join the Hockey Canada Rolodex, and maybe we'll call on you later, such as the Olympics or something".
They didn't have to go through such lengths with Smyth, who knew he'd be passed over for the more marquee events because Canada would rather have the star power of a center such as Jeff Carter or Claude Giroux playing wing than a guy willing to get injured on the ice to prevent or even score a goal; no, Smyth just goes because of his commitment to his country and his love for the game.
The same love of the game that got him playing in a senior league at age 41, three years after having retired from the rigors of the NHL, because he couldn't not play.
Here he is wearing the Oilers' white (then-home) turn-of-the-millennium uniform with the "Oil Driller" shoulder patches and the alternate captain's "A", on card #FF-RS from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set and Frozen Fabrics sub-set: