Smyth's smiles replace tears on first day with Isles
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Ryan Smyth took a deep breath just before he was hit with the biggest reality check of his 12-year NHL career.
The jersey he held was orange and blue, and it even had No. 94 stitched onto it.
Nothing new there. But the front said Islanders, and nothing could've been stranger to the lifelong Edmonton Oilers forward.
"Here we go," the 31-year-old Smyth said Thursday, shortly after his first spin on the ice with his new teammates. "Good to be here."
There were smiles for this big media gathering, a stark change from the day before when a news conference at the Edmonton airport reduced the rugged winger to tears.
He never wanted to leave the Oilers and was stunned when word came across his TV that he was dealt away after contract talks broke down moments before Tuesday's trade deadline.
The photos of his sad face found their way onto pages of the New York tabloids. One headline dubbed him, "Cryin' Ryan" -- quite a change from his familiar moniker of "Captain Canada."
"It was an emotional day from the get go," he said of the whirlwind 48 hours. "The transition of leaving Edmonton, seeing all the snow on the ground and then landing here around 11:30 [Wednesday night].
"Putting on this jersey now is a transition, no question, but I'm thrilled."
The Islanders were getting ready Thursday to play the St. Louis Blues when Smyth entered Nassau Coliseum. He walked the long hallway between the dressing rooms as several camera crews and a throng of reporters waited for him.
A season's worth of pregame skates on Long Island don't garner this kind of attention. There were as many Canadian representatives as local outlets.
"Whoa, who's here?" backup goalie Mike Dunham said with a smile.
Injured defenseman Bruno Gervais jokingly asked who leaked word he was going to skate in practice.
The Islanders were in a very good mood. Their tenuous playoff chances got a big boost with the acquisition of Smyth, whose 31 goals and 53 points are second best on the team to new linemate Jason Blake.
"When we first announced the trade to the team, I've never seen 20 guys with bigger smiles on their faces," coach Ted Nolan said. "A lot of them had that childish grin on their faces that said, 'No way. We didn't get him.'
"They know what kind of player he is and what he is going to mean to this hockey club."
"He can play me wherever he wants," Smyth said of Nolan. "I'll do whatever it takes for the team to win. If it's putting my teeth in front of a puck, I will do that, too."
New York traded prospects Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra, both first-round draft picks, and its top choice in this year's draft for Smyth, whose Islanders career could end within weeks.
"I am very honored and flattered to see what they've given up," Smyth said. "They're making a push. I'm just another piece to the puzzle.
"I've been in Edmonton for such a long time but I'm looking forward to a new chapter and getting an opportunity to make a run for the Cup."
The Islanders began the day tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference but were only one point above the playoff cutoff.
Smyth passed the cameras and followed the Islanders media relations staff into the dressing room for the first time. He shook hands and introduced himself. He then emerged in a bright orange practice jersey and headed toward the ice.
A 4-year-old boy wearing a jacket commemorating the Islanders' four Stanley Cup championships, won decades before he was born, extended his hand to Smyth -- the larger-than-life player he called "the new guy, No. 94" -- just moments earlier.
Smyth smacked his hand, marking his first high-five on Long Island.
"If there was one perfect guy or a perfect fit that would get us to where we want to get to and demonstrate what it takes to get there, we couldn't have hand-picked it better," Nolan said. "It's going to take some time for the adjustment period to happen.
"The one thing we can do as a team and as a coaching staff is make him feel as welcome as he can. Once we start the competition, the competition will take care of itself."
That could go a long way in convincing Smyth to stay.
He reportedly sought a five-year deal worth $5.5 million a season from Edmonton. Smyth denied reports he and the Oilers split because of a difference of $100,000 per season.
"That's not right. There is more to it than that. If that was true I would've ...," he said before catching himself.
Smyth kicked his foot at the ground and nervously moved side to side at the lectern. Smyth said all the right things, but wasn't nearly ready to say he'd stay long term. Smyth's wife made the trip with him but his two young daughters remained home.
He is ready to be an Islander.
"Every time I put on my skates and put on my helmet I think of nothing but being inside that rink and helping my teammates," he said. "I have a passion to play the game. Obviously, it's a new jersey and I'm proud of it."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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