Friday

Gary Smith: Suitcase

In 1973, the Vancouver Canucks traded their original franchise player to get a lanky goalie with a reputation of being a bit on the flakey side. The goalie nicknamed "The Suitcase" not only became a fan favorite, but turned out to be one of the best players ever to wear Vancouver Canucks uniform.

"Suitcase's" 6 shutouts in 1974-75 remains a Canuck record.

In 1973 the Canucks traded the original Canuck, talented defensman Dale Tallon to the Chicago Blackhawks for Gary Smith, who in 1972 shared the Vezina Trophy with teammate Tony Esposito. Right from the inaugural press conference introducing Smith to Vancouver it was quickly evident he was an outgoing charismatic star Canuck fans would love.

"Everything you heard about me is true, I am a great goaltender" Smith announced as his first words to Canuck faithful. While it was obviously tongue in cheek, it was just a sign of things to come.

Smith was known for his stickhandling adventures in an attempt to become the first goaltender to score a goal. He would often stickhandle past his own blueline, yet his efforts were never rewarded. Another unrealized ambition of Smith's was to punt the puck over the scoreboard in Maple Leaf Gardens. While he never actually kicked it that high, it was an odd site in deed to see the goalie kicking the puck out of his own zone. He is also legendary for his famous late nights and partying.

Smith might of had a blast playing in the NHL, but no one survives 14 NHL seasons and 532 games without delivering. That's what Smith did best in the Canucks old green, blue and white uniform.

His first season in Vancouver he played 65 contests, winning 20 of the Canucks 24 wins that season. The following season was easily Smith's best, as he and the Canucks had their first winning season and were for the first time a legitimate NHL team.

The team had 38 wins to capture their first Smythe Division championship, and Smith was the key. He played in 72 of the 80 games, with a record of 32-24-9. His 6 shutouts that season is still a team record. He finished 5th in Hart Trophy balloting that season.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Robson still thinks Smith perhaps should have won the Hart that year. The Canucks played above their heads that season and the next both they and their star goalie became victims of their own success.

Unable to live up to their incredible run in 1974-74, the team still managed to finish above .500 but Smith's GAA ballooned from a team record 3.09 to a personal high of 3.50. He went 20-24-6 that season, which would prove to be his final in Vancouver.

That summer GM Phil Maloney traded Smith for Trail B.C. native Cesare Maniago. There is a story out there that one of the main reasons for his dismissal was his antics at a Christmas part. Smith got very drunk at a Canucks Christmas party. He was introduced to owner Frank Griffiths Sr.'s wife and was informed that her father was Dr. Ballard of the dog food company fame. Smith replied that he "could see the family resemblance from the can!"

Smith, who also played with (hence the nickname "Suitcase Smith" Toronto, Oakland, California, Minnesota, Washington, Winnipeg (as well as a two-team, one year stint in the WHA) would retire in 1980. He was a great goalie who never had a chance to play for a good team. But one thing is for sure: few players enjoyed life in the NHL like Gary Smith.

3 comments:

gary smith,  12:25 PM  

Thanks for the kind words about me and my dad Des Smith.i would like to correct the cotriversy about meeting Mrs Griffiths at the christmas party though.yes i was Drunk,bit i didn,t say the comments about the Dr Ballards dog food can.That was made up as a jole by a reporter.I was however ignorent to mrs Griffiths and i spoke with her and her husband and apologised the next day .they accepted my apology.And when i was honoured as one of the top 30 Canucks on the Canucks 30th anniversary of being in the NHL,i spent the night with 8 friends in Mrs .Griffiths suite at GM Place.

Anonymous,  7:09 PM  

Gary If you are reading this, I have always thought you were a great goalie, I saw you played for the Canucks in 75' Play offs against the Canadiens, and you held them think for Two Overtime periods, until finally Yvan Cournoyer, scored on a Rebound. I agree with That you are in the top 30, and if I dare say, top ten Canucks ever.

elvicare35 5:55 PM  

What an awesome goalie and character/person, you brought so much to our city Gary!!!!! I wish you and your's all of the best, and thank-you very much for the entertainment and making our team so competitive and fun to watch!!!!!

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