Almost every NHL coach will use the
old cliché “Win as a team, lose as a team” to emphasize
how games should never be credited or pinned on
any one individual player.
the upset loss in the 1986 playoffs by their old rivals,
the Calgary Flames, Oilers coach and general
manager Glen Sather publicly
team's defence. Fans, however, put the blame on rookie defenceman Steve Smith.
Smith, who had worked his way into
the team’s defensive rotation, and performed well in 55
games during the 1985-86 season, got into six of
the team’s playoff games that spring. Number six is one
he would like to forget. With the score tied late in the
third period of the deciding seventh game of the Battle
of Alberta, Smith saw his errant pass bounce off Oilers’
goaltender Grant Fuhr and into his own net. Smith was in tears as
he, and everyone in the stands, knew that the Oilers could not recover, and the team’s dream of
taking home three Stanley Cups in a row had slipped
away. Calgary had finally won a Battle of Alberta
series, and would later reach the
Stanley Cup finals, only to lose to the Montréal Canadiens.
It would have been easy for a young
defender to be shattered by the event; instead, Smith
persevered and became one of the key players of the team’s
drive for three more Cups in 1987, 1988 and 1990. Smith
best year came in 1987-88, when he scored 12
goals, added 43 assists, and received 286 penalty
minutes. Smith proved he was a tough customer, and the
disastrous goal was nothing more than a fluke.
By the early 1990s, the League
recognized Smith as one of the top defencemen in the
NHL. He was selected to the 1991 Canada Cup-winning
national team and played in the NHL All-Star Game that
same year. Later in 1991, the Oilers traded Smith to the
Chicago Blackhawks where he would play a key role in
leading the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup final since
the 1970s. That year’s playoffs, Mario Lemieux and the
Pittsburgh Penguins swept the Blackhawks.
Smith remained with the Hawks until
1997, when injuries forced him out of the game. Smith's
retirement was short, and in 1998 he got
himself back into shape and played parts of
three seasons with the Calgary Flames before he
succumbed to age and
nagging injuries. Smith left the
game in 2000 with 375 points and 2,139 penalty minutes
in 804 career NHL games.