PENTICTON, B.C. — Lost in the hype surrounding the fresh-faced future of the Edmonton Oilers is a 47-year-old blast from the past who feels more like a kid than they do.
Assistant coach Steve Smith is using the Prospects Tournament in Penticton to get his bench legs under him and it didn’t take long for his new position to strike a very special chord.
Being at the rink as a scout is one thing, but being close enough to feel the wind when the players fly past is something hockey people never take for granted.
“There’s nothing better than being this close to the game,” said Smith, who’s returning to the team that drafted him 111th overall in 1981, and were he won three Stanley Cups, to help shape the next generation of Oilers. “It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed and loved. I love teaching and I love working with young people. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me.”
Smith and the Oilers began exploring the possibility this summer at the draft and within a few weeks he was part of the team again. He’d been laying pretty low since his retirement in 2001, keeping a promise he made to his family, but now that the kids are all grown up he’s ready to dedicate himself full time again.
“I have five children and my number one priority when I retired was to spend time with them,” he said after the morning skate on Tuesday. “When I was young my father worked three jobs and never had that opportunity, to spend a whole lot of time with us after hours. All he could do was catch the third period of our hockey games or the last two innings of our ball games.
“I made it very clear to the people who were closest to me that I was going to spend the first five or six years with my children.”
So he coached, all right, guiding his kids teams through every sport and every season.
“I coached everything, I mean everything, and I really truly enjoyed it. I wouldn’t change anything for the world. My kids are a little older now, forging their own paths in the world, and it allowed me the opportunity to get back into the game again.”
While his coaching experience is limited to an assistant’s job in Calgary 13 years ago, it’s not like Smith doesn’t know his way around a rink. He spent 15 seasons in the league, learning the dos and don’t of playing and coaching from the likes of Glen Sather, John Muckler, Mike Keenan, Darryl Sutter, Craig Harsburg and Brian Sutter.
He gleaned a lot of those guys, found out what worked and what didn’t, what he liked or didn’t as a player, what he hated as a player but subsequently discovered was actually for his own good.
“They were a pretty diverse group,” he said, adding the most important thing any coach can do is treat his players with respect. “What I try to do each time is try and envision what I would want to hear and what would work for me. It doesn’t always work for everybody but it’s always a good basis to start.”