Veteran Smyth feeling lucky

 

When Ryan Smyth was invited to the 2001 Canadian Olympic hockey team orientation camp in Calgary, he packed his gear and thought about taking his autograph book as well.

 
 
 
 
 

When Ryan Smyth was invited to the 2001 Canadian Olympic hockey team orientation camp in Calgary, he packed his gear and thought about taking his autograph book as well.

"It was an awestruck kind of thing for me," said Smyth. "The big guys (that were) there. Mario (Lemieux) ... Stevie (Yzerman), and the team headed by Wayne Gretzky."

"To get that out of the way was a big deal."

Smyth was only 25 back then. Now he's 33, with two Olympics under his belt--the gold-medal victory in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the disappointing loss in the quarterfinals in Turin, Italy, in 2006.

He's back for more, looking for the Olympic hockey hat trick, as one of the 46 invited players this week in Calgary. This time, he'll be one of the so-called senior citizens at the four-day camp at the Pengrowth Saddledome. He'll be the fifth-oldest player there. Only Tampa Bay Lightning winger Martin St. Louis (34) is older among the 25 invited forwards. New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (37) and defencemen Scott Niedermayer(35, Anaheim Ducks)and Chris Pronger (34, Philadelphia Flyers) have him beat, too.

In 2001, there were 15 players out of 34 invited who were 30 or older at the orientation camp. This time, there are only 15 out of 46 players older than 30, in large part because they failed so miserably in Turin with a veteran cast that couldn't score.

"This is such a young group this time around (15 players under 25). Being around them should make me better," said Smyth, who wore Canada's sweater in seven consecutive world championships. He would have made it eight last spring in Switzerland if he hadn't broken his hand late in the season as a member of the Colorado Avalanche when he fell heavily into the boards in a collision with Phoenix Coyotes defenceman David Hale.

Smyth was coming off his best-ever NHL season in 2001, 70 points, including 39 goals.

This time he's on the bubble. He had 59 points with Colorado, before he agreed to waive his no-trade clause and was moved to the Los Angeles Kings in July for defencemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing.

In Calgary, there are 12 centres on the 46-man Olympic camp list and some of those will find their way onto left wing, maybe Sidney Crosby, maybe Patrick Marleau.

Smyth is in tough, but he's always battled the odds.

"To be honest, I didn't know if I'd get an invite this time, with the team in Colorado not being successful and with my health ... I'm very blessed to be there," admitted Smyth, who will be playing for Olympic head coach Mike Babcock, his former junior coach with the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors.

"I've known Babs for a while, and he's a winner (Detroit Red Wings), but these (orientation) camps are all about establishing yourself. First impressions, you know. I'll just bring my assets to the table. We all know I'm not a flashy player."

There are considerably more players auditioning for the 2010 Olympic team than the group that went to Salt Lake City. There's so much depth that Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard, who finished eighth in NHL scoring with 88 points last season, was not invited. Ditto for Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brian Campbell, one of the NHL's better puck-rushers.

"That should tell you how awesome this team is going to be," said Smyth, one of only seven players back from the 2001 camp. He played on a line with Eric Lindros and Yzerman.

But things fell apart in Turin as the skaters gave Brodeur no support.

Smyth's body of work with Team Canada has always been rock-solid. And his health is strong, too, going into this orientation camp despite having two straight years of injuries (concussion, shoulder, hand), playing 132 of 164 games in Colorado.

"My hand is fine. It's my right ... maybe I shouldn't be giving away secrets. Oh, I forgot, this isn't the playoffs," laughed Smyth, who knew the Avs would rebuild after last season's 28th-place finish.

"I caught wind at the draft and I asked Donnie (agent Meehan) to find out what was going on. On July 1st or July 2nd, the Avalanche phoned and asked if I would waive my no-trade (clause) to go to LA.

"I could have said no, but the Kings have a young group, so why not try it out," said Smyth.

jmatheson@thejournal.canwest.com

 
 
 
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