It was a touch of class for the Oilers organization to include a commemorative DVD of Ryan Smyth’s retirement in the renewal package for season’s ticket holders. But it took me until the 16th of May to watch it. Honestly? I needed to summon up the courage first.
I was blessed to have my 12 year old with me at Rexall Place that night, to share a very special moment.
My son was 5 when his favorite player was traded away from Edmonton. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, explaining to him just what had happened and why. I’ll never forget looking into his teary eyes as he sobbed “Maybe Smytty will come back, Dad”? “Yeah, son”, I managed back, “Maybe he will”.
I dare not have imagined.
A few things in the DVD stand out as especially poignant: The scene where Smyth narrates his drive to Rexall Place speaks volumes of the player and his love for our city. Each time my own family comes over that same rise, my son (even though we have driven it hundreds of times) always shouts “Hi, Rexall”! Even on the coldest winter night, that view is a special site. It’s a common bond so many in Edmonton share.
Replacing Ryan Smyth off the ice may be harder than replacing him on the ice. Evidence? As his wife and kids stand at center ice at the end of the game, #94 encourages his young charges to “wave to them, say thank you”. The crowd responds with unconditional adulation. The old barn rumbles. The player and his family epitomize Edmonton.
Finally: the moment with Taylor Hall. Anyone who follows this team closely surely admires Andrew Ference. His gesture of handing Smyth his jersey with the “C” sewn on it was pure class. But we all know, Ference included, that this will one day be Taylor Hall’s team. If you have ever doubted that, watch, as Smyth hugs #4, and encourages him to “Lead this team, win a Cup”. Hall hugs him back and answers only “ Love you, buddy”.
Observe, Oilers fans, as the torch is passed. This is the moment that it happens: During warm-up, Hall drops to one knee; quietly observes certainly the best example of an Oiler, in his lifetime, on a night closer to a playoff game in Edmonton than he has ever experienced in his young career.
From our seats, we notice how Taylor Hall respectfully bows to his teammate. How each time they share the ice, the younger looks for the elder. How #4 waits in the runway for #94 to take his final curtain call.
We believe, my son and I do, that we not only said goodbye to a loyal warrior that night. We believe we said hello to our team’s new leader.
And that soon, when we come over that rise, South on Wayne Gretzky Drive, and gaze again upon old Rexall Place, better days will have come.