In an era when so many hockey players were putting the dollar sign ahead of team loyalty, Stan “The Steamer” Smyl went against the flow. Smyl fashioned a fair bit of talent and a huge helping of heart and determination into a 13-year NHL career, and unlike so many of today’s players, he spent every game with the same team.
For anyone that might have thought that Smyl was too small or too slow to last in the NHL, all they had to do was watch one shift and those concerns would be answered. Born in St. Paul Alberta on January 28, 1958, Stan Smyl made a name for himself even before he reached the NHL. Smyl started his junior career with the B.C. Junior Hockey League’s Bellingham Blazers in 1974/75, but he made the jump up to the Western Hockey League’s New Westminster Bruins for the playoffs that year.
Smyl was a member of the Bruins for four seasons, and each year the team advanced all the way to the Memorial Cup Canadian major junior hockey championship. They were finalists in the first two years and cup championship the next two. After thrilling B.C. hockey fans for four years in junior, it was fitting that he should continue to call the West Coast his home when he reached the NHL. Smyl was drafted in the third round of the 1978 amateur draft, the 40th player selected overall.
Smyl appeared in 62 games for Vancouver in his rookie year, scoring 14 goals and assisting on 24 others. He also brought his physical style to the big leagues, picking up 89 penalty minutes. In only his second season Smyl set a mark that few have ever equaled, leading the Canucks in goals, assists, total points and penalty minutes.
The 1979./80 campaign also marked the start of a string of eight consecutive seasons of 20 goals or more. He also had at least 100 penalty minutes in seven of those eight campaigns. Another example of Smyl’s importance to the team came in the spring of 1982. When a broken ankle sidelined team captain Kevin McCarthy for the remainder of the season, the ‘C’ was handed to Smyl. That year he led the team all the way to the Stanley Cup finals against the New York Islanders and also started the NHL’s longest continuous captaincy.
When he finally gave up the ‘C’ in 1990, it was given to three other players on a rotating basis. It seemed only fitting that it took three players to fill his leadership role. When Stan Smyl announced his retirement in the summer of 1991 he held the Canucks’ team records for games played (896), goals scored (262), assists (411), total points (673), short-handed goals (13) and penalty minutes (1,556).
Even though he had hung up the blades, Stan Smyl didn’t wander very far from the Canucks’ players bench, as stepping into a role as the team’s assistant coach. Smyl moved up to the head coaching level in 1999, when he was given the job as the bench boss for the Canucks’ top affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch.