Friday

Bobby Smith

Bobby Smith was born in North Sydney, Nova Scotia but his family had moved to Ottawa by the time he was 2 years old. Ottawa would become a special place for Smith.

After developing through the Ottawa minor hockey system, Smith graduated all the way to the OHL where he would play for the hometown 67's. At the time he was the second most talked about junior phenom of his day. Some kid named Wayne Gretzky was getting even more attention.

While Gretzky only played one season in the OHL, Smith went on to become perhaps the best player the "O" had ever seen. In three years he tallied 158 goals, 227 assists and 385 points in 187 games. In his final year of junior he scored an OHL record 192 points including 69 goals and 123 assists. That same year Wayne Gretzky, who was two years younger, scored 182 points with the Soo Greyhounds.

The stats do not tell all about Smith's junior career. With Gretzky off to the WHA, Smith became the most sought after junior prospect. At his size, 6'4" and over 200lbs, many scouts preferred Smith over the smaller Gretzky. Smith was named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year in 1978 and was a Memorial Cup All Star the year before. And he had great character, as he maintained straight As in high school and later at the University of Ottawa, where he studied chemistry and psychology, while playing with the 67s.

Being the most attractive prospect at the NHL draft meant the obvious - Smith was destined to be the #1 overall draft selection by the league's cellar dwellers - the Minnesota North Stars. He was selected ahead of other junior standouts like Ryan Walter and Bill Derlago.

Minnesota would have no regrets in taking Smith with their pick. Within 3 seasons the Stars went from worst in the league to Stanley Cup finalists. Smith was a big part of an exciting young team that also boasted Neal Broten, Dino Ciccarelli and Craig Hartsburg.

Smith won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season. He scored 30 goals and 74 points while playing in all 80 games. Despite his strong play the Stars missed the playoffs, but showed marked improvement over their last place finish the year before.

Bobby was a big part of the Stars return to the playoffs in 1979-80. While battling through an injury shortened 61 games, Smith scored 27 goals and 83 points to lead the Stars to the post season. And the Stars didn't just make the playoffs, but performed great in them, surprising many teams. Smith himself only scored 1 goal but added 13 assists in 15 games. While he took some heat for not scoring more himself, his tremendous playmaking and play without the puck was a huge part of the Stars quick turnaround.

While some were calling the Stars playoff run of 1980 a fluke, Smith and the Stars proved that wasn't so in 1981. The Stars not only duplicated their previous run but bettered it by reaching the Stanley Cup finals against the defending champ New York Islanders. While the upstart Stars were little match to the powerful Islanders, everyone had a new found respect for the youthful Stars, and particularly Bobby Smith who led the team with 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists) in 19 playoff contests.

Smith's best season came in 1981-82 when he notched career highs in all major offensive categories: 43 goals, 71 assists and 114 points. Despite winning the Norris division the Stars were quickly bounced from the 1982 playoffs by Chicago.

However things would take a turn for the worse for Bobby and the North Stars following that disappointing playoff result. The Stars fired their coach and hired Bill Mahoney as the new head coach. Mahoney apparently had his own agenda and wanted to make a name for himself. Smith's wife Beth explains:

"This guy (Mahoney) came in and decided he'd show everyone who was boss, starting with Bob." As a result, Bobby's ice time was cut dramatically and so too his production, though it remained at a point a game clip. However the new head coach's style did not complement Bobby's style well and it wasn't long before the two locked heads.

"I put up with it for a while" explains Bob, "but at that age I was pretty impatient and eventually I just said 'Enough. Trade me to a team that appreciates me, or I'll quit and go back to school.' "

The Stars felt Smith's threat was real and complied with his trade demand. They traded the gigantic forward to Montreal in exchange for Keith Acton, Mark Napier and a draft choice (Ken Hodge Jr.). It was a great match for Smith. Montreal was relatively close to his old stomping grounds in Ottawa. It was also a great experience from a hockey standpoint.

"For me, just to see the older guys coming around was a thrill: Dickie Moore, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, occasionally the Rocket or Henri. Heck it was a thrill to be on the same ice as guys like Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson. I loved Montreal; I mean, there I was, in the prime of my career, in the greatest hockey city in the world, with the greatest organization, close enough to home that my dad could come down for the games, all my games on TV, Beth (his wife) in her home town...."

Smith continued to play strong two way hockey for his 6 1/2 seasons in Montreal. But by far his best season would have been 1985-86. He posted 31 goals and 86 points (he posted better numbers - 93 points - in 1987-88 with Montreal) and helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup. It was a surprise Cup victory for Montreal and a special feeling for Bobby, as it would be his only Cup championship.

Towards the end of Bobby's days in Montreal, it appeared as though his best days were well behind him. He slumped through an injury plagued 1989-90 season. He only scored 26 points in 53 games. The Habs traded the devalued Smith back to Minnesota for a draft choice on August 7, 1990. It was a homecoming for Smith, although the Stars had never really been the same since the day they traded him.

Smith continued to play 3 more seasons in Minnesota. He struggled to post respectable numbers but was a standout as always in the playoffs. In fact in 1992 he helped power the North Stars back to the Stanley Cup finals before bowing out to might Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Smith scored 8 goals and 16 points in 23 games. It was almost like the old days a decade earlier.

Smith announced his retirement just days before his last game in April of 1993. Four months later he was refocused on his new goal - school.

Smith was an extremely intelligent person and had always been a great student and had intended to go to University all along. He took classes at the University of Minnesota during his off seasons and enrolled full-time after retirement to complete his business degree. He earned his B.S. and MBA degrees from Minnesota's Carlson School of Management between 1993 and 1996. He later went on to hockey management including being the general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes.

4 comments:

David 8:26 PM  

The magic of the Internet! On a whim I gogled Bobby Smith, who had always been my favroite player. ( For some reason I grew up loving the Minn. North Stars, even though I lived in Toronto). And I found this great article.

Thanks very much.

JAG,  8:47 PM  

Corrections:

1. Bobby Smith and the Montreal Canadiens lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, not 1992.

2. Minnesota coach Glen Sonmor did not get fired after the North Stars lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 1982 playoffs. Glen Sonmor coached the Stars until January 1983, when he RESIGNED because he "lost the enthusiasm." He was replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Murray Oliver. In the playoffs that year general manager Lou Nanne took over as head coach and before the start of the following season Bill Mahoney was hired to coach the North Stars.

Anonymous,  12:35 AM  

Corrections:

Lost with the North Stars the SCF in 91.

karyn mathewson stenbraaten,  4:12 PM  

Bobby and his wife and family are amazing people - I was blessed to know them and have always been excited to follow his career. I had no idea of the 'stuff' that happened in Minnesota. Always knew that Bobby would be smart and get that education and career! Beth was a fabulous babysitter to me - way back in the day!! :)

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP