Ryan Smyth. Image by: Getty Images
Former Oiler Ryan Smyth is playing senior hockey in Alberta because he still loves the game. That his season was likely ended on a dirty hit by a minor-league goon is another blight on the game.
I have to admit that I had never heard of Kyle Sheen before today. Seems like a pretty decent guy. Works as a mechanic for an elevator company, so you know he can be trusted. His Facebook page has a lot of lovely pictures with his wife, accompanied by warmhearted messages and photographs that depict him as another one of those enforcers with a heart of gold.
He probably volunteers in his community, is great with little kids, walks old ladies across the street and has a soft spot for stray animals. He’s also a former Federal League goon who is now basically a beer league goon who will now be able to sit down and tell his children and grandchildren about the time he scrambled Ryan Smyth’s brain with an elbow to the head.
Personally, I’m growing a little – no, a lot – weary of this tired narrative. And it’s part of what keeps these guys in the game. I’ve met a lot of fighters, almost all of whom are great people off the ice. And I’ve met a good number of clean, skilled players who can sometimes be nasty pieces of work to the people in their lives. The fact that the goons are almost always the first guys to go and visit kids in the hospital or donate their time to charity seem to make them all that much more endearing.
But for god’s sake, people, it’s 2017 and we’re still dealing with these guys who are a blight on the game. This time it was over the weekend, when the former Edmonton Oiler great was rewarded for scoring a backhand goal for the Stony Plain Eagles in the first round of the their playoff series with the Lacombe Generals with a flying elbow to the head courtesy of Mr. Sheen. It seems that Ryan Smyth loves the game so much that even though he can no longer play it at the NHL level, he continues to coax his 41-year-old body to play for a senior team in Alberta for nothing more than the love of the game.
You’d think players in the Chinook Hockey League would realize they have greatness in their midst, that having a guy like Smyth would be great for the profile of their league and something of a privilege to share the ice with him. But then you have these wonderful guys like Kyle Sheen, who think it necessary to knock out the opposing team’s best player in the playoffs. Sheen has actually won the Allan Cup, which goes to Canada’ senior league champions, twice in his career and his teams have won the Chinook Hockey League the past four seasons. And you know what? The guy has actually put up a fair number of points. He’s been basically a point-per-game player for the Generals in the regular season and, get this, actually better than a point-per-game in the playoffs.
But he’s a goon. He’s been one ever since his junior days with the Kootenay Ice and Kamloops Blazers, with 524 penalty minutes and 50 fights in 225 games. He outdid himself in the backwaters of minor pro hockey, though, racking up 561 PIM in just 169 league in the United, Central and Southern Professional Leagues, loops that are so bad that just one of them currently exists. After Sheen’s only season with something called the Rapid City Rush, a year in which he had as many points as he had fights (18), there was a video made by Sheen’s “loyal Rush fans,” thanking him for “leaving it on the ice every game.” It’s three-plus minutes of dirty hits and a bunch of fights, with two goals shown at the end.
And once again, here’s a guy whom a good number of hockey fans laud for being a stand-up guy, one of those guys who’s supposed to be out there to keep peace on the ice so guys like Ryan Smyth don’t have to worry about having their heads taken off by some beer league idiot who wants to make a name for himself. But as is the case with those kinds of guys, they’re actually the ones who make the ice the most unsafe for everyone because they can’t seem to draw the line between protecting their teammates and being aggressors.
So now, instead of helping the Stony Plain Eagles in the playoffs and perhaps helping them to win an Allan Cup – and wouldn’t that have made a great story – Ryan Smyth is back home in Edmonton recovering from a head injury. Who knows? With Smyth, anything is possible and perhaps he comes back to play in this league, but you’d have to think he’s had enough of this garbage. And hockey has had enough of the likes of Kyle Sheen. Maybe we can all just stop idolizing these guys and see them for the menaces they are to the game.
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