NHL star invites former Caronport coach to his farewell game
Lloyd Friesen vividly remembers the first time he saw Ryan Smyth play hockey.
© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth waves to the crowd after playing his last game in the NHL Saturday.
Smyth's former Midget AA coach isn't going to forget the last time he watched Smyth play either.
Friesen was in the Smyth family box Saturday night at Rexall Place as the Edmonton Oilers legend played his 1,270th — and final — National Hockey League game.
"Ryan called me earlier in the week and indicated that that was probably going to happen and invited me to come and watch the game," said Friesen who coached Smyth in Caronport during the 1991-92 season. "It was a nice gesture on his part. He's a very loyal individual. He has a lot of respect for people around him.
"It was a special occasion. He's kept in touch over the years and we've developed a great friendship."
Smyth's parents Jim and Dixie, along with his wife Stacey and their children were in the same box as Friesen and some other family friends.
It was an emotional night for Smyth who fought back tears on the bench before taking his final shift. The fans in Edmonton roared their appreciation for him every time he was on the ice.
"It was emotionally for me too," said Friesen. "The emotional part of it was the respect that the fans had for him. The way they responded to Ryan throughout the night — just from the get-go when he came out for warm-ups — they were pulling for him all night. They were there to help him finish with a good feeling."
Ryan's older brother Kevin Smyth played in Caronport for two seasons. Ryan came out to visit from his hometown of Banff, Alta. and Friesen knew he was a special player.
"He came to visit Kevin and got on the ice with us at practice and I looked at the kid and thought 'oh my goodness we have to get him back here,'" said Friesen.
Both Smyth brothers would go on to play in Caronport before joining the Moose Jaw Warriors.
"(The talent) was obvious with both of them. Kevin's skill-set was higher than Ryan's, but Ryan was able to cover a lot of that up with his work ethic and his passion for the game," said Friesen who is currently the Sask. Midget AAA Hockey League president.
Sparrow Gardens in Caronport was a rink so cold that water bottles would turn to ice on the bench, but there was nowhere Smyth would rather be.
"He was always on the ice," recalled Friesen. "His work ethic on the ice was the same as it was academically. He was determined to do well in both areas. Whenever he had time, he put his skates on and was on the ice. You never really saw him anywhere but on the ice or with his books."
Friesen said Smyth arrived with a vision of what he wanted out of his career on the drive to achieve it.
"It was apparent right away. He and I chatted right away and he was passionate about reaching his goal and his goal wasn't only to make the NHL, but his desire at that time was to play for the Edmonton Oilers," said Friesen.
Smyth had served as a stick boy in Banff for the 1987 Canada Cup team that was loaded with Oilers. He had wanted to join their ranks ever since.
Not only did Smyth play parts of 15 seasons with the Oilers, but 'Captain Canada' also represented his country at eight world championships, a pair of Olympics, a World Cup and a world juniors. He has an Olympic gold from 2002, a world junior title from 1995 plus world championships in 2003 and 2004.
Smyth also played for Colorado, Los Angeles and the New York Islanders. He amassed 296 goals and 631 points over his NHL career.
Both Smyth brothers played three seasons with the Warriors including one season as teammates.
Kevin Smyth ended up with 242 points in 201 career WHL regular season games with the Warriors. He played 58 NHL games with the Hartford Whalers by the age of 22 before an eye injury curtailed his career.
Ryan Smyth scored 55 goals and had 116 points in 35 games with Caronport as a 15-year-old.
The next season he joined the Warriors. He had 50 goals and 105 points in 72 games in 1993-94 before the Oilers made him the sixth overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Smyth finished his WHL career with 224 points in 188 career regular season games.