Genuine … humble … generous … classy … … hard-working … hard-nosed … honest … gritty … a team guy who always had your back … a quiet leader …
The great and the good of the hockey world had a common goal in a 20-minute video: finding words to do justice to Zack Smith, the retired forward who remains proud of his Maple Creek roots.
While there were comments on his 13-year NHL career – his 94 goals in 612 games with the Ottawa Senators – the focus was mainly on human qualities that made him so popular in the dressing room and a fan favourite.
“You always stood up for your teammates,” said Daniel Alfredsson, retired right winger for the Ottawa Senators, adding that the only people cheering Zack’s departure were goalkeepers.
Jody Campeau, NHL player agent, said Zack had “absolutely crushed” the hockey chapter in his life and could look forward to a successful second chapter.
“You are a great husband, a great dad,” he said.
“Congratulations on a heck of a run,” said Erik Karlsson, defenceman and alternate captain for the San Jose Sharks. “You had a fantastic career.”
A recurring phrase was used by players, support staff, agents and administrators: they were honoured to call Zack a friend.
One or two raised a glass of wine, or a can of beer, to toast their buddy “Smitty”.
It was a moving eulogy to “just a small-town boy” who went to play in the National Hockey League.
The video featuring nearly 30 contributors had been put together by Brittany, Zack’s heavily pregnant wife, who will soon be giving Rae and Eddie Dean a new sibling to fuss over. Zack reportedly had no inkling of the retirement gift.
It proved a highlight of Saturday evening’s supper/auction upstairs at the Maple Creek Curling Club that capped off the Zack Smith Retirement Golf Tournament.
The event, following the tried-and-tested format of the Zack Smith Charity Golf Tournament, which ended in 2019 after a 10-year run, raised more than $10,000 for Southwest community initiatives. It means that $300,000-plus has been brought in over 11 years.
Twenty-eight four-person teams had registered for the event, which saw play divided between Maple Creek Golf Club and Cypress Hills golf course.
Zack, playing with Jori Dean and Tyson Baulkman, started in the morning at Cypress Hills, where conditions were cool, damp and misty.
At about 1.15pm, he returned in a coach to Maple Creek, where skies were overcast, the weather warm and muggy. After all the rain, the course was in magnificent shape.
There was a tremor of excitement around the clubhouse as Zack teed up his drive on the first hole. Among those watching was Don Lewis.
Normally, he would have been out on the course like fellow tournament organizer, David Eng. But today he was cooking burgers and doing behind-the-scenes work to ensure the day ran smoothly.
Zack’s drive was uncharacteristically wayward, prompting one or two light-hearted remarks.
Shortly afterwards, Eng appeared on the green of the 9th hole with team members Dena Weiss, Brad Blythman and Marilyn Blythman. High-fives were exchanged after Weiss sank a 15ft putt.
The next teams on the green included Colleen Dean, Zack’s mother, said to be the star golfer in the family.
Of course, the day was far more than about golf. To Zack, it is about reuniting with old friends, catching up, and sharing memories.
“It was nice to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “Every year I look forward to coming to Maple Creek and playing in the tournament. It’s one of the highlights of my summer.”
Zack said he was thankful for the way the event had been supported.
“We’ve been raising for a lot of causes over the years, and it is awesome to see such support.”
Although in previous years, Zack has played with NHL friends, this time he decided on a more low-key approach.
“I didn’t reach out to a lot of guys,” he said. “It is a busy time for them. Everybody has got kids and family, and Maple Creek isn’t the easiest place to travel to and fly into.”
As afternoon turned into evening, attention switched from golf to supper. People helped themselves to a buffet spread of pulled pork and salad, and took their meals upstairs in the lounge and bar.
After the video tribute, Tyler Cronkhite took the microphone to auction off, among other items, several Zack jerseys, two bearing his famous #15, one with #18.
Then came Zack’s second big surprise of the night: the presentation of a giant painting of him by his artist friend Melinda Baum, with whom he once boarded. To Melinda, Zack remains the same regular guy she met when he was 15.
In an email to Lewis, Baum extolled Zack’s virtues. Lewis read out her words:
“Please make sure Zack knows how very, very proud we are of him, because he is truly a man of honour, of integrity, with one of the strongest work ethics I’ve ever known. I think he survived and thrived in professional hockey because of who he is, hockey did not make him who he is.
“Zack has always had a strong sense of self, and has never ever forgotten who he is and where he came from, and that is a Maple Creek kid born and bred. And I know he is grateful to and for all of you for sure!”
Finally, it was Zack’s turn to speak.
He paid an emotional tribute to those instrumental in his early development as a hockey player, people such as Al Fournier, Jack Cameron, Bryce Weiss and Tim Drury, who took time out of their days to provide encouragement and guidance.
“I will make it up to you guys, I just hope you know how appreciative I am.
“I’m sure everyone in this building knows how much you guys have given to minor sports, all your free time. Thank you so much. I didn’t want to make a list because I was afraid of leaving people out, but I’m so happy some of those guys are here tonight.”
Zack spoke of the joy that the golf tournament bearing his name had given over the years.
Not only did it become an annual party, it also raised money for good causes, keeping funds within the community, and provided a rendezvous for some of the key people in his hockey life.
“The tournament was a way to introduce those people,” said Zack, expressing his thanks to Don Lewis and David Eng.
Someone in the crowd shouted “one more” – the idea of another tournament went down well.
“I don’t think it’s any secret, I’m not running this golf tournament,” laughed Zack. “It’s such a fun party and it’s so amazing. Every year we throw a bunch of curve balls at Dave and Lewis and they are so fired up to do it and it’s just another reason why I love this town, and I’m so happy to come back here all the time and express my gratitude.
“It’s hard to say how grateful I am to be from Maple Creek. Man, I love this community so much and it’s like once a year you get to experience it. Thank you, guys for that.”
Zack praised Dave and Lewis for their efforts in organizing the tournament, while acknowledging there were many others who also helped out.
“… those two guys have put in so many hours of their time. They have never asked for anything and they are good at it. Thank you, guys so much for the 10 years.”
“It was our pleasure,” Lewis called out, prompting claps and cheers.
Zack said he aspired to be in the same category of those who have given back to their community over the years.
“I have so much respect for that,” he said.
He added how happy he had been with the direction of the tournament.
“It has been a good ride,” he said.