Ryan Smyth really gained importance in my head when I started reading the reactions to his trade from Edmonton to the Islanders last season. Him leaving Alberta meant something, and meant something very profound, to a lot of people---especially in Canada.
Since he's joined the Avalanche, I've really come to appreciate his hard work and his all-out-all-the-time attitude on the ice. There's never been a shift where I've thought "Smyth could hustle a little bit more out there." Call him the direct antithesis of Tyler Arnason, in that Arnason has talent oozing out of every pore but just doesn't try very hard very often. Smyth is not an elite player, just like the press accused him of when he signed the fat contract with the Avs, but he's always gunning for the net, always doing his best to get the job done, always playing.
I appreciate Smyth a lot now. But I don't appreciate him nearly as much as some people do. The whole point of this entry is to highlight one of the most glowing blog posts I've ever read about a single hockey player (excluding all the fluff written about Sid Crosby, of course).
Andy Grabia at The Battle Of Alberta posted a superb entry on what "Smytty" means to Canada and the game of hockey. It strikes a cultural chord that so much hockey writing (and sports writing in general) often fails to do. Especially to hockey, which lacks the literary sense found in baseball or the larger-than-life dramatics found in NFL Films, writing like Andy's post is so important.
It is my own belief that Smytty is one of those key players, those legendary characters who tell our story and bind our nation. He matters to me, as he should to us all, a great deal. He matters because there are so few other professional players like him, and he matters because he is the most common man in our land. Thousands of Smytty’s exist throughout this country, and yet only one skates every night on NHL ice. He matters because he is the textbook definition, the Platonic Form, of "The Canadian Hockey Player."
As a native United Statesian, I can't relate to hockey in quite the same way that Andy and all you other Canucks can, just as, I think, I can relate to baseball in ways that Canadians can't. I love hockey, obviously, but there's not that larger sense of collective meaning about it that comes so easily for my Brothers To The North. Andy's post perfectly captures that feeling.
Hopefully Smyth retires in an Avalanche uniform. It's not every day that a team can find such an important player---for so many other reasons than just statistics---like Ryan Smyth. Just as Ray Bourque became so important to us Avs fans because he was so important to so many others, Smyth will do the same.
(Unless, of course, the Flames call wanting to trade a lousy defenseman or two.)