Ryan Smyth when he announced his retirement during the 2013-14 season, adding four cards I'd hoped he'd sign for me to the package; I received all of them back today, signed in black sharpie, with his usual unique handwriting on them.
Smyth may be nicknamed Captain Canada for having, well, captained Team Canada a record six times at World Championships and for being the only player ever to lead the team to gold at all major events - Olympics (2002), World Championships (2003 and 2004), World Cup (2004), World Juniors (1995) and Spengler Cup (2012) - but he is also recognized as one of the three penultimate Edmonton Oilers, with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
He finished his storied NHL career with 386 goals, 456 assists and 842 total points in 1270 regular-season NHL games, and another 28 goals, 31 assists and 59 points in 93 playoff games, but his contributions were always about more than mere numbers anyway. He was often the hardest-working man on the ice - nay, in the league.
His leading by example and leaving everything on the ice at every game led to his wearing an "A" on his jersey for most of his career, as can be attested on the following three cards of him with the Oilers, all from Upper Deck and all showing him wearing he team's white (home) uniform from the turn of the millennium:
Ales Hemsky holding the middle behind him, on card #319 from UD's 2005-06 Series 2 collection; and the card at the bottom is from the beautiful 2006-07 SPX set.
I also included a card of his with the Colorado Avalanche, #70 in the 2007-08 SP Authentic set, showing him wearing the team's pretty awful burgundy Reebok Edge jersey:
He had just come off of two straight 36-goal seasons, and the Avs were hoping he could delay the mid-thirties decline most power forwards go through, and he almost did, flirting with the point-per-game average in Denver but with injuries starting to take their toll.
The Avs traded him to the Los Angeles Kings after he posted 26 goals and 59 points in 2008-09, numbers that declined to 22 and 53 (in 67 games, mind you) to 23 and 47 (in 82 games), prompting L.A. to send him back to Edmonton, where he finished fifth in team scoring with 46 points in 2011-12, then 13 in 47 games, then 10 goals and 23 points in 72 games in his final season, in 2013-14.
Better numbers than many other players but, then again, Ryan Smyth was a better player than most. He certainly had a lot of heart. And he can't get hockey out of his mind, as can be attested by the fact that he half-ended his retirement to play in the Chinook senior league last year...