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Thursday, July 2, 2009
'Captain Canada' Ryan Smyth receives Olympic orientation camp invite, and rightfully so


Ryan Smyth was literally in Shuswap Lake in British Columbia on Wednesday trying to get his boat tied when his cell phone rang on board. He let it ring.

"My father-in-law said, 'I think Kevin Lowe phoned you,'" Smyth told ESPN.com on Thursday.

Perplexed because Lowe, the Oilers' president of hockey operations, hasn't been his NHL GM for a few years now, Smyth checked the voice mail.

"I was pretty excited when I got the message, and I phoned him right back," Smyth said.

Excited, indeed.

Captain Canada had been invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp set for Aug. 24-28 in Calgary, Alberta. It was no sure thing he'd receive an invitation, but credit Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman and the rest of the management staff (including Lowe) for realizing Smyth's sparkling international résumé deserved a camp invite at the very least.

"I didn't expect it, but I was certainly hoping, for sure," Smyth said. "And I was real happy when Kevin Lowe phoned."

Smyth will need a strong start to next season to stay on Yzerman's radar, and he knows that. Very few pundits will give him a chance to be on the final 23-man roster, but he comes armed with an international résumé that includes a 1995 world junior gold medal, a 2002 Olympic gold medal, 2003 and 2004 world championship gold medals and a 2004 World Cup of Hockey championship. All told, he has played 85 games at the national level, including two Olympics.

"These things are memories that I'll never forget and cherish forever," Smyth said. "Just having that experience of playing for my country over the years is something I'd like to use going forward. But it's not going to be easy. Canada wants to win. They want to take winning players."

Having covered Smyth at international events, the one thing I've seen firsthand throughout the years is his unbridled passion for the national jersey. The man would go through a brick wall for that uniform.

"I'm proud to be a Canadian," Smyth said. "Putting the maple leaf on your chest and going out there and skating with pride to win for your country, it's an awesome feeling. Sometimes words can't describe how special it is."

It was during his stretch of playing in seven consecutive world championships from 1999 to 2005 (I covered six of them) when I gave him the nickname "Captain Canada." I thought it was fitting not only because he was captain for most of those tournaments but also because of the way he approaches playing for Canada.

"Actually, I got a few phone calls this morning with people saying, 'Captain Canada gets to go to the orientation camp.' So it's pretty special," Smyth said. "And, obviously, you were the one that kicked that off for me. Although, now they're saying Doaner is taking over."

Shane Doan has been captain for Canada at the most recent world championships and has been labeled with Smyth's nickname for his equally patriotic service. But c'mon, Shane, get your own nickname, will you?

"Actually, his place is right across the lake from me here," Smyth said with a laugh. "But we've never brought it up. Maybe I should. I might have to arm wrestle him for it."

There's only one Captain Canada, and good for Team Canada for at least inviting him to camp. He deserves that opportunity.