Since 1998, I’ve been working as the host for Edmonton Oiler broadcasts. One of the questions I often get is who is the nicest guy on the team?
It’s always a hard one to answer because truthfully, throughout my time around the Oilers, the players are genuinely nice people. It’s difficult to pick a favourite because there have been so many good ones.
I will say it was always tough not to at least mention Ryan Smyth in the conversation. When he was with Edmonton, wasn’t with Edmonton and now has come back as an Oiler, there may not be a player that has treated me and those around him much better than Smyth. He proved that again recently when he went to visit a cancer patient in Leduc, Alberta; a small town just outside of Edmonton.
The man’s name is Bruce Dick. Bruce is dying of throat cancer. The 57-year-old was diagnosed with the disease a little under 18 months ago.
Every winter, Bruce would grow a beard. Two winters ago, he noticed one area of his beard was growing faster and sticking out farther than the rest. Other than having to trim it more often he didn’t give it much thought.
That is until the spring of 2011 when he shaved off the entire beard. At that point he noticed he had a lump on his throat.
He had cancer.
The difficult battle began and to take his mind off what he was facing, Bruce would have liked nothing better than to watch hockey and his favorite team the Edmonton Oilers. The lockout put an end to that hope.
For a man suffering and living in pain, those two-and-a-half hours every night or every second night would have been a great escape from the harsh reality of death staring him down. However with the lockout, there has been no hockey for Bruce to enjoy.
Other fans have time on their side. Bruce does not. He’s already outlived doctor’s expectations. He would like nothing better than to watch a game.
His other wish, if he couldn’t have hockey, was to meet his favourite player… Ryan Smyth.
Bruce, like so many Smyth fans, loves Captain Canada for his work ethic, his attitude and his love of the game. It’s what’s made Ryan Smyth who he is as a hockey player, but it’s who he is as a person that really makes him special.
When the 36-year-old was asked if he would meet with Bruce, his answer was an immediate ‘yes’. When and where and I’ll be there is basically what the Oilers winger had to say.
Hospital visits are nothing new for someone as community-minded as Smyth, but this one was different. A request from a man old enough to be Ryan’s father and yet young enough in his heart to still have a favourite player.
Bruce’s everyday life is filled with medication to ease the suffering that he must endure.
However, when Ryan walked in the room, no medicine could have done what Smyth did. A smile immediately crossed Bruce’s face and the two started to talk. About life, about hockey and about family.
Bruce’s three kids were in the room and so were his grandkids, a moment too special not to share with loved ones. The Oiler brought Bruce a hat, he signed autographs and spent time with the entire group.
For Bruce, it was a break from the monotony of being ill. A chance to be ‘normal’ and even if for just a little while forget about what ails him and instead concentrate on what makes him happy.
That’s what the visit by Ryan Smyth did for Bruce Dick. In turn, the visit was an inspiration to Ryan and an enormous dose of perspective at a time when a solution on how to split 3.3 billion dollars can’t be achieved.
While the NHL and NHLPA bicker and moan about each other, a middle-aged man in small-town Alberta is, literally and figuratively, dying to see one last game. If hockey can’t help him, at least his hockey hero can.
For Bruce Dick, a visit by Ryan Smyth was just what the doctor ordered.