Straight from the heart

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Ryan Smyth stood there with tears in his eyes and emotion twisting the features on his face, the face of the franchise for a dozen seasons.

He knew it would be that way as he watched a 60-second pre-game video tribute on the scoreboard.

"It got me. It was tough," said Smyth. "It was quite an honour to be received like I was tonight."

What No. 94 didn't expect was to look down the bench at Rexall Place last night and see his new teammates on the Colorado Avalanche all choked up.

"We were trying to look back at him as if to say 'Oh, no, we're not crying,' " said Ian Laperriere.

"Everybody was holding back tears. I had tears in my eyes. We're all big babies down deep. I had tears in my eyes and I'm not shy to say it."

The fans didn't have the heart to boo the longtime heart and soul of the Edmonton Oilers. Well, other than once early. And a couple of more times later. For the sake of tradition. Or something.

"I expected that. Our fans really have a good perspective with these things. It never surprises me that they have such a good perspective about things like this," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish.

"Ryan didn't have the puck all that much in the game but they were ready to boo him when he did, which I thought was appropriate as well."

Prior to the national anthem, Smyth stood on the blue-line beside the Colorado bench, watching a "special tribute to a long time friend." It ended "saluting the things you brought to us as an Edmonton Oiler."

Wiping away tears, Smyth twice skated out to raise his stick in a salute to the fans. Then the game started. He touched the puck on his first shift -- and heard the traditional booing.

It wasn't booing with the volume or venom like Mike Comrie and Chris Pronger have recently heard here.

Few former members of this team which has had to go through so many of these emotional returns by so many greats of the game, have been given the same sort of return-to-town hug as No. 94.

"It was very meaningful," observed Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville.

"Seeing how the fans reacted and how Ryan reacted was very touching. I saw what happened on the trade deadline and how much emotion was involved in his leaving here," he said of the sobbing, bawling ex-Oiler.

"It was very emotional," Smyth said when it was over. He survived the ordeal with a quiet 21:25 minutes of ice time, four shots, no goals, no assists, no points and a minus one for the night.

It seemed like everybody who owned a Ryan Smyth Oilers' sweater brought it out to wear once last time.

Smyth said he'd been in the visiting dressing room before.

"We were in that room when we won the Joey Moss Cup," he laughed of the training camp tournament.

When he skated out for the warmup, it was almost all cheers. When he was the last player leaving the ice and tossing pucks into the stands like he did at the other end of the rink so many times, he was cheered again.

When the starting lineup was announced, it was more of the same. Smyth knew the video would get to him.

"A lot of things run through your mind," he said. "I saw some of the banners the fans made up for me. I looked up at the banners of the Stanley Cups at one end and the retired players at the other and couldn't help but think how much history there is in this building."

The fans who have seen so many players come and go couldn't find it in themselves to do anything but show their appreciation for the blue collar wear-his-heart-on-his-sleeve player who gave them just about everything he had through a lot of years when the Edmonton Oilers didn't have much.


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