Hall of Fame Induction an Honour for Former NHLer Smail
When Doug Smail was first breaking into the National Hockey League with the Winnipeg Jets during the 1980-81 season, hockey was in a very different place compared to what it was later in that decade and what we see today. Rough-and-tumble fight-filled intimidating hockey was the order of the day. So when the Moose Jaw product first took to the ice – 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds – well, things were as tough as could be expected.
But the times were changing. The game evolved suddenly and rapidly and Smail’s style of play fit right in. The end result was a 13-year NHL career – 11 of those seasons with the Winnipeg Jets – that ended with 210 goals and 459 points in 845 games. So it came as little surprise when it was announced that Smail was one of six inductees into the Moose Jaw and District Sports Hall of Fame for 2018. He was enshrined on the Wall of Fame – located on the Mosaic Place second floor concourse – during their annual induction banquet on Oct. 20.
“It’s a tremendous honour; it’s something I never really thought about or considered but I’m very, very privileged,” Smail said prior to the event. “I want to thank all the people who were responsible for that and there are so many people who I think deserve to be on this wall in my opinion. So, this is a terribly big honour.” Smail was quick to give thanks to the Moose Jaw community for helping him develop into the kind of person who could take the ice and play hockey at the NHL level. That development included two seasons with the Moose Jaw Canucks in the SJHL, where he had 60 goals and 116 points in the 1976-77 campaign.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a city to raise an athlete,” Smail said. “Certainly, there were so many people in my life who’ve had an affect on me and my life, in high school and grade school, family, friends, adopted fathers so to speak. A tremendous amount of shaping was done.” Smail pointed to coaches and mentors like Roy Ashworth, John Hunter and Bevin Leipert as important figures in his development.
“They were three guys who immensely shaped my career, mostly through my life,” he said. “They coached me through some pretty rebellious teenage years and weathered the storm on my behalf. I have nothing but thanks for those gentleman.”
After a three-year run at the University of North Dakota – where he led the Fighting Sioux to the NCAA championship in 1980 – Smail signed as a free agent with the Winnipeg Jets, and stepped into a whole new world of hockey.
“I was a kid from the prairies; I’d had a great career at North Dakota in college, and I had started maturing emotionally and socially and stuff like that when I got to Winnipeg,” Smail said. “It was close to my family and it was on the prairies, so I wanted to play there.
“I was a kid pinching himself every day for 13 years, and that’s the truth. I felt fortunate to be there. I played with some great athletes and great coaches; John Ferguson was there most of my career and we had a very good relationship... I didn’t even realize when I got there that they’d given me number nine; it never even clued-in that it was Bobby Hull’s number and then in the first time in a game I was ‘good gosh’. It was all pretty amazing.” Smail’s arrival was part of a new era in the NHL, an era that would be filled with high-scoring, fast-paced and record-setting hockey by the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and, of course, Smail’s long-time teammates Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne.
A two-way player himself, Smail’s best season came 1984-85 when he scored 31 goals and 66 points. He still holds the NHL record for the fastest goal from the start of a game at five seconds.
“It was a different time, the 70s were a very, very physical time for hockey and we had the hold overs, so a bunch of us who were skaters at the start of the 80s paid the price for it,” Smail said. “So, we’re thankful for Gretz and Mess and the guys on our team and the whole Smythe Division at the time, we turned the game into a skating game and we just had a fabulous time playing. It was a great time to be in hockey.”
Smail had stops in Minnesota, Quebec and Ottawa before playing three seasons in the British Premier League – including 1993-94 campaign where he scored 62 goals and 142 points in 41 games with the Fife Flyers.
He now lives in Denver and coaches the Midget AAA-calibre Rockey Mountain RoughRiders.
Smail was inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside baseball and curling coach Roger Anholt, athletics builder Stanley Herbert ‘Hub’ Gutheridge, national champion figure skater Susan Humphreys, baseball coach and athlete Jim Baba and hockey and baseball athlete/builder George Hunchuk.