During an incredible run of seven consecutive IIHF World Championships from
1999 to 2005 – the last five with the ‘C’ on his chest – Ryan Smyth was
given the nickname ‘Captain Canada’ by sportscaster and writer Pierre
The name stuck … for good reason.
Smyth is Canada’s all-time leader in games played at the worlds (60) and
ranks 10th in scoring with 31 points. Captain Canada’s international résumé
goes far beyond the worlds, though; he played at an IIHF World Junior
Championship, two Olympic Winter Games, the World Cup of Hockey and
On Tuesday, Smyth was announced a member of the Class of 2020 for the IIHF
Hall of Fame.
IIHF World Junior Championship
Smyth played in one World Juniors and he couldn’t have picked a better one
if he had the chance. The Banff-born Smyth and his Canadian teammates won
all seven games in Alberta – the tournament was based in Red Deer, but
games were played throughout the province from Stettler to Leduc to
“It was really special,” says Smyth. “It was unique how we won because of
the format back then (a round-robin with no medal round) but we ended up
winning all seven games we played and won gold. My parents had moved to Red
Deer a few years before so it was home for them. It was fitting how it all
blended together, being someone born in Alberta, having the Edmonton Oilers
draft me – it was a lot of fun.
“The World Juniors are a kickoff to a lot of great memories and being
around some great people in the game. You put the Maple Leaf on your chest
and play for your country and meet guys from all over Canada. That’s the
IIHF World Championship
Smyth’s got a great sense of humour and he jokes that he isn’t so sure it’s
good that he played in eight world championships.
“It means your team missed the playoffs each of those years,” he says with
But Smyth became Captain Canada at the worlds. During his five-year run
with the ‘C’, Canada won back-to-back gold medals in 2003 and 2004, and
added silver in 2005.
“It was amazing to play in the worlds as many times as I did and I was
completely honoured each time they asked me. I just enjoyed the games,”
says Smyth. “It was helpful that my wife and kids would support me. That
time of the year, if you’re not in the playoffs, you want to be there for
your family so I was very lucky to have my family support me.
“The worlds are a great experience, from playing in those games to
travelling the world. I gained a lot of respect for different countries and
players from overseas. For them to leave that far to play in what we
consider the best league in the NHL … well, I realized there are some great
players from those countries.”
Olympic Winter Games
“Someone asked me recently, ‘Which is better – playing in the Olympics or
the NHL?’” says Smyth. “As a kid from Canada, you don’t think of playing in
the Olympics much – at least I didn’t – because it’s every four years. But
it’s such a special event. I went to a few of the games in 1988 in Calgary.
But when I was growing up, for me it was all about the NHL. But fast
forward and now I’m in the NHL and you see they’re taking NHL players and,
all of a sudden, your name is being thrown around, and you think ‘That
would be unreal.’”
Smyth played in two Olympics, helping Canada end a 50-year drought at the
2002 Games in Salt Lake City before representing his country again four
years later in Italy.
“Other than the Lucky Loonie at centre ice, the big thing for me was that
5-2 loss to Sweden and the early games. The media was all over us,” says
Smyth. “[Executive director] Wayne Gretzky came out and said what he had to
say; he backed us up 100 per cent. I remember the next night, Curtis Joseph
said to me, ‘Smytty, no country is going to beat us the rest of the way.’ I
was one of the young players, and every older veteran made you feel like a
part of it, whether you weren’t getting a lot of ice time or were more of a
role player. Everyone put egos aside and it was a team.”
World Cup of Hockey
Smyth and Team Canada went 3-0 in the preliminary round at the 2004 World
Cup of Hockey, blanked Slovakia 5-0 in a quarterfinal, snuck by the Czechs
4-3 in the semis and beat Finland 3-2 to win Canada’s first World Cup.
Smyth says his international experience taught him a lot. Maybe most of
all, it gave him complete and utter respect for players from other
countries who play the game.
“For me, we sometimes think Canada is a benchmark and these other countries
are thinking about ‘How can we beat Canada?’” Smyth says. “But we would
have conversations about being ready for Russia, Finland and Sweden. And
then, later on in my international career, it would be ‘Watch out for
Germany or Switzerland.’ It’s just great how big the game has become all
over the world.”
The oldest invitational hockey tournament on the planet, the Spengler Cup
usually sees Canada assemble a team of professionals playing for European
club teams. That wasn’t the case in 2012, when NHLers, including Smyth,
John Tavares and Tyler Seguin, among others, joined the roster due to an
Following a tournament-opening OT loss to Adler Mannheim on Boxing Day,
Canada reeled off three straight wins to win the title.
“The amount of fun with families and guys, it’s phenomenal,” says Smyth. “I
had to basically beg Hockey Canada to take me as there were a lot of
players playing overseas during the lockout. And I got to play with guys
like Seguin and [Patrice] Bergeron. The fans, the atmosphere – it’s all of
those things. And the rink is so unique. The fans get right into it, you’re
in beautiful Davos, next to a great ski resort. It reminds me a lot of
Smyth will be officially inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame this May
during the 2020 IIHF World Championship in Zurich and Lausanne,