Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jason Smith Retires After 14 Seasons

As printed in the Edmonton Journal and Ottawa Citizen....09/03/09

Jason Smith was longest running captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

It's one of the hardest lessons hockey players can learn: If you like to play a rough, sometimes nasty game, your body will eventually rebel.

You play hurt. And you stay hurt.

That's what happened to former Edmonton Oilers captain Jason Smith, who retired Wednesday after 1,008 NHL games over 14 seasons --none where he ever went to battle anything but all-out. If there was a shot to be blocked, a straight-arm to be delivered into an opposing player's chest or a score to be settled for an earlier slight-- often on a teammate-- Smith was always first in line.

But now it's the end of the line.

"I always played the game as hard as I could and as physically as I could and I don't think I can do that anymore. It's not like I flipped a coin and made this decision," Smith said at his going-away party in Ottawa, where he played last season for the Senators.

Smith, a native of Calgary, was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1997 and played for five different teams in a distinguished NHL career: the Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, the Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers and Senators.

He came to Edmonton on March 23, 1999, in a trade-deadline deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Oilers gave up a fourth-round draft pick in '99 (Toronto took Jonathan Zion)and a second-rounder in 2000 (they took Kris Vernarsky). Only Vernarsky played in the NHL, but just 17 games.

Smith, nicknamed Gator, played 542 Oilers regular-season games and 45 more in the playoffs. He became Oilers captain in 2001 after Doug Weight was traded to St. Louis. When he was traded to Philadelphia, he got the C there, too, a testament to his leadership.

"There were some pretty tough captains like Bucky (Kelly Buchberger) and Fogey (Lee Fogolin) too, but Jason certainly wore his heart on his sleeve as well as any of them," said current Oilers president Kevin Lowe, who was a coach and then general manager with the team during Smith's years in Oilers silks.

Smith's most satisfying moments as a player came during his seven-plus years in Edmonton, where he became the fourth team captain to lead the team to the Stanley Cup final, in 2006 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Obviously, being in Edmonton as long as I was, being the captain there and experiencing the run to the finals, was a special time," Smith said. "Having grown up in Alberta and being around the Flames-Oilers rivalry, it was pretty amazing to be a part of that.

"I had some great teammates there, and met some great people in the city and still have friends away from the game there to this day. I definitely had a lot of fun playing there and have a lot of great memories of playing in Edmonton."

Part of what made Smith a great leader was his incredible pain threshold. He barely knew his way to the medical room.

"If he said, 'This is hurting me,' you would put him in an ambulance," said longtime Oilers trainer Ken Lowe, Kevin's brother.

"Nobody beats Danny Ray Kepley (for taking pain), but Gator was right up there. In my top five. Only one time I can remember him being worried was when he was hit in the eye with a puck...only time he ever hesitated about playing.
The Edmonton Journal

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