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Edmonton fan favourite excited about first appearance at annual game
Jim Matheson, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, January 22, 2007


Captain Canada has worn the maple leaf more than any other player, but this will be Ryan Smyth's first NHL all-star appearance in his 11th season.

How does that happen?

"He hasn't been there before now? Geez, I'm surprised,"said Colorado's Joe Sakic, who played alongside Smyth in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics and will captain the Edmonton Oilers winger's Western squad in his 12th trip to the mid-season game.

"I'm really happy for Ryan...nobody's more deserving. He's the perfect teammate, whether it's in the world championships he's been in, or the Olympics. He comes to play every night."

"It should be easy for Ryan. I know my first time I was only 20 and wondering what the heck I was doing there. In the target-shooting contest, my heart was pounding 200 beats a minute, which made it worse. Heck, Ryan will at least know most of the guys there from all the teams he's played on."

Smyth won't be wearing 94, though. He'll be 93. Phoenix centre Yanic Perreault gets 94 because he's played about 25 more NHL games. If you polled 100 fans across the country on who wears 94, you'd get maybe 94 people saying Smyth, not Perreault, the NHL's best faceoff guy, but Smyth will live with the number change.

"He has a right to it. I didn't know he'd worn it his whole career (on five teams). I had a chance to talk to him and he felt badly but he didn't feel he'd be back to the all-star game. I respect that," said Smyth.

Smyth has made a habit of collecting jerseys over his NHL days and international competition and a 93 all-star sweater will, at least, be a conversation piece. "Maybe I'll take off the three and sew on a 4 later," he joked.

"Guys change numbers all the time. I know I wasn't always 19, in this game," said Sakic, who indeed bowed to Steve Yzerman more than a few times.

Smyth, who's taking his wife Stacey and leaving the two kids at home for the all-star show, will treat the experience like any other first-timer. He'll look for autographs, and he'll do what he's told, in terms of whom he plays with (he did play some with Sharks' Patrick Marleau in previous international competition and with Bill Guerin here), and what skill he shows off in the contest after the YoungStars game Tuesday night. He'll definitely have to modify his game in what figures to be the usual 20-goal shoot-'em-up.

"I know Eric Lindros threw a check one year but this game is more for the skill guys. I don't know about the pushing and the shoving and the mucking around the net that I usually do. This is an all-star game, so I don't know if I'll come back and meet my own goaltender. I usually don't," joked Smyth.

And his skill? No tip-in drills. "No kidding," chuckled Sakic, who says Smyth is the best in the business. "They may have to make up a drill for Smytty. He can do the target shooting (at the four styrofoam circles). They can move the targets into the crease for him."

"Joe said that? That's nice of him," laughed Smyth.

"I was thinking more along the lines of hardest shot. I took part in that one year in the Oiler skills."

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