Steve Smith

It never mattered how good of a defenseman Steve Smith became. And he became a very good one.

But he will always be remembered for this:

It is one of the most famous goals in Stanley Cup playoff history, if only for all the wrong reasons. Smith accidentally puts the puck in his own net in the third period of a tied game seven, putting his team on the brink of elimination. The two time defending champion Edmonton Oilers never recovered, and are knocked out of the playoffs by their arch rivals, the Calgary Flames.

Smith was just a rookie then. Such a devastating occurrence could easily have wrecked many a young defensemen's career. While most people will remember Steve Smith for the mistake, people should remember him for his resolve and becoming one of the better defensemen of his era.

Never Came Easy

Success in hockey never came easy for Smith.

He was never drafted by a junior team. He grew up out of the scout's radar in the tiny town of Cobourg, Ontario. When his teams traveled to tournaments, scouts were unimpressed with the gangly kid who found his big body too awkward to be effective.

Smith stuck with the game, and by age 17 he grew to 6'3" and 180lbs, enough to catch the attention of his hometown London Knights. Smith, who was actually born in Glasglow, Scotland of all places, made the team, though played the first half of the season as the 4th line right winger.

By his NHL draft year he filled out to 225lbs, and played regularly on the blue line. Despite his promising skill set, he was a mid round draft pick, selected 111th overall by the Edmonton Oilers.

Smith was not even the highest selected Steve Smith of his draft class. Taken in the 1st round, 16th overall by Philadelphia, was another Steve Smith, this one of Sault Ste. Marie.

That Steve Smith was supposed to be more of a sure bet, but he only played in 18 career NHL games.

Meanwhile the Oilers Smith went on to become one of better defensemen of his era, playing in 804 games, scoring 72 goals, 303 assists, and 375 points while winning three Stanley Cups and a Canada Cup.

We would be remiss to not mention his career 2139 penalty minutes, which is amazing given that he was not a noted fighter. Smith was an intimidating monster back on the blue line, not afraid to impose his 6'4" 220lb body on any incoming forward.

Blessed with balance and agility on his skates and ridiculously long reach, Smith was tough to beat one on one. He was also very good at reading the oncoming plays and was always in good position to defend.

Smith was much more than just one dimensional shut down defenseman. He had surprising mobility, able to cover more ice and maximize his physical impact. He could rush the puck out of the zone when needed, but more often than not relied on an effective first pass out of the zone to key the transition offense.

Smith had a solid offensive game, relying mostly on slapshot from the point. His shot was not particularly overwhelming, but he had a good knack to get the shot through traffic and on net.

Smith persevered after the playoff disaster to become one of the Oilers best defenders. When the Oilers recaptured the Stanley Cup in 1988, captain Wayne Gretzky immediately handed the silver chalice to young Smith.

As the dynasty became dismantled over the next few years, Smith became the Oilers top defender. At the same time he became a bit a whipping dog for coach John Muckler. Muckler obviously recognized Smith's resolve and used that continuously prod him. He recognized Smith's unique package of skill and size, and wanted used old-school coaching techniques to see Smith reach his potential.

Like so many of the Oilers Stanley Cup stars, contract disputes forced Smith out of town. In October 1991 the Oilers moved Smith to Chicago in exchange for Dave Manson and a draft pick used to select Kirk Maltby. Smith had sat out the Oilers training camp and was prepared to sit out the beginning of the season in search of a new contract.

In the first two seasons with Chicago Smith became a steady standout along side Chris Chelios in Chicago. Injuries derailed Smith's career over the final four years in Chicago. Twice Smith broke his leg, and he constantly battled a bad back. Smith would miss more games than he would be able to play in.

The Blackhawks did not in 1998. The back injury scared all teams away except for, of all teams, the Calgary Flames.

Smith joined the Flames and put in a yeoman's effort, playing through the pain to participate in 69 games while providing a badly needed veteran presence.

Smith's back would give out though. Combined with a severe concussion suffered against Minnesota, Smith would appear in only 33 games over the next two seasons, eventually being forced into retirement and behind the Flames bench as an assistant coach.


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