Hollywood by way of Oil Country
Star actor/director Kevin Smith recounts his passion for hockey and the Oilers
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As an award-winning Hollywood star, Kevin Smith has helped grace the Silver Screen with such hits as 'Dogma,' 'Clerks" and 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno,' among others as he follows his passion in film.
But something else, in a much colder but equally as intense environment, caused Smith to re-evaluate, re-charge and inspire. It was hockey, and it's become an invaluable component to Smith's star-studded career.
His mother, who worked in a medical centre along with the New Jersey Devils' team doctor when he was a child, got the ball (and an addiction) rolling.
"She would always bring home tickets, sticks and anything else I'd like," Smith said. "I've been a hockey fan pretty much since birth. New Jersey was a tough sell at the time, but because of that, I was able to get in all the time to catch some games. I guess that's where it all started."
He's always been a New Jersey supporter; born and raised in Red Bank, the Devils routine is instilled, much in the way Oil Country breeds its drillers. Just recently, however, he became an Oilers fan and it, too, began under humble circumstances.
As Canadian as can be, a CBC documentary helped pen orange and blue into his extraordinary agenda.
"I was watching ‘Hockey: A People's History.' In the section where they talk about Gretzky, I was swept away. You think know something about someone you'll never meet, but someone came and put him in perspective. I began to think about him in a way I never did prior to that viewing. It was on another level.
"When you dig deeper, you start getting into the mythology, the lure and the entire history of the Oilers. What they were able to put together was something special. The example that they set was one I like to take into my day-to-day; to live and to play the way Gretzky and the Oilers did.
"I have fun, I'm enthusiastic, I'm a good teammate, and I'm smart and logical. They were a huge inspiration for me and still are to this day."
Smith had made several visits to Edmonton in recent years as he hosted comedic Q and A sessions, but once he'd gained knowledge of the Oilers' unforgettable past, his Oil Country arrivals took on a whole new meaning.
"When I went back up to Edmonton, it was emotional," he explained. "I'd get up on stage and start tearing-up as I talked about Gretzky and what the Oilers had accomplished. Gretzky leaves (August, 1988), but they come back and win another Stanley Cup. It's a story worth telling for generations.
"In the beginning, it only took them a couple years to win a Stanley Cup. It's impressive no matter how you slice it. Slats (Glen Sather, Oilers Head Coach at the time) took a bunch of kids and said, ‘Get creative with that puck!' and that's all he did to help build that team into a champion."
Smith's love for the Oilers brought him to Rexall Place in 2009. It was there where he could bask in the team's past success and revel in the Oilers' unmatched and world-renowned in-game atmosphere.
"Going to a game at Rexall Place was incredible," he said. "It was like going to church; it was reverend, it was fervent. You've got to understand, I'm used to watching hockey on the east coast and, generally speaking, you don't see that kind of enthusiasm for a game.
"For me it's a win-win," Smith added. "I get to go up there and re-charge my spiritual batteries. Something special happened there in the mid-80s and you don't see that every day. Magic happened there.
"[Edmonton] was put on the map by that team. Oil Country and the Oilers have an unbreakable relationship; more so that most cities have. The Oilers have helped build the city's makeup, too. It's the City of Champions for a reason."
Fearing that he may have had an impact on the Oilers' recent run of success, Smith is keeping his zealous orange and blue declaration quieter than in year's past.
"This year I've kept everything on the down-low," he laughed. "I've been keeping my mouth shut this year and they're doing well. They've struggled in the past when I've proclaimed my love.
"Maybe I'm crazy."
Smith couldn't help but show his enthusiasm for the team's strong start. At 7-2-2, the Oilers have climbed to No. 1 in the NHL's Northwest Division and have gained semblance as an up-tempo, in-your-face squad, to which the 41-year-old screenwriter has grown to admire.
"They've got the youth blood in them right now and the wisdom, experience and heart with players like Ryan Smyth. There's no need to be critiquing the team's success to no end. Have fun with the run, because it's so rare in sports.
"The team is poised, really poised to make some strong headway this year," he added. "Maybe we'll see the post-season this year, too. It'll happen, no doubt, so long as they play at this level through 82 games."
Before the Oilers, Devils and any of the league's other 28 teams, Smith is a passionate supporter of the game in its purest form. Like the most genuine of players, owners, managers, fans and so on, he wants the sport's legacy to be passed down so that others can experience what the NHL is all about.
"Hockey is something I really admire – something I really dig. The game is so important and bigger than any one person. The onus is on fans and players to keep that going and share the game's magic with someone else."
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