From a Bentley Generals standpoint, the only negative aspect surrounding Ryan Smyth’s venture into senior AAA hockey is the fact he’s a member of the Stony Plain Eagles.
Otherwise, the 39-year-old winger, who scored 386 goals and accumulated 842 points in 1,270 NHL regular-season games — mostly with the Edmonton Oilers — has been a welcome addition to the Chinook Hockey League.
Smyth made his Stony Plain debut last weekend and scored once and added an assist in a win over visiting Innisfail, and he and the Eagles will be in Lacombe Friday for an 8:30 p.m. meeting with the Generals.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Generals general manager Jeff McInnis said Wednesday. “Years ago it frustrated me when (Theo) Fleury started playing at this level and we got some notoriety.
“I still hear the comments today: ‘Hey, I came to watch the Generals play just a few years ago at the (Red Deer) Centrium against Fleury and Horse Lake (Thunder),’ but actually that was over 10 years ago. I guess that’s who we are — the red-headed stepchild of senior hockey and people pay just a bit of attention to us.
“But it helps when a guy like Smitty or anyone like him plays in our league. It gives us some public legitimacy that we already knew we had.”
The Generals will return the Eagles’ visit by travelling to Stony Plain for a Saturday night outing, which will be Bentley’s final game of the Chinook League regular season.
“Because of Rosetown (Redwings) pulling out of the league last fall (and forcing the creation of a new schedule) we don’t have games the following weekend, which is the last weekend of the regular season,” said McInnis.
“We have some holes in our schedule that we feel aren’t ideal at this time of the year and here we have a big weekend against Stony Plain, a battle for first place. On a positive note, it’s nice to be able to play exciting games at this time of the year.”
The Generals, with a 12-3-0-1 record, have a six-point lead over second-place Stony Plain in the Chinook standings and can nail down top spot with one victory this weekend.
Meanwhile, McInnis has welcomed the recent addition of forward Mike Bayrack and defenceman Jeff Einhorn to the Generals. Forward Carter Rigby joined the club prior to Christmas and has contributed three goals and eight points in nine games, and rearguard Drew Bagnall, a long-time American League player who appeared in two NHL games with Minnesota in 2010-11, has played five games with Bentley but his availability for the remainder of the season remains up in the air.
“We wish Drew could play every game but he has a shoulder issue,” said McInnis. “We’re not going to hold out hope for him because of that.”
The 37-year-old Bayrack, a former WHL player with Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Prince George who skated with North American minor pro teams as well as clubs in Europe over a 15-year stretch, has produced one goal and one assist in two games with the Generals.
Again, McInnis is unsure of Bayrack’s status for the rest of the season.
“He’s a guy who has practised with us for two and a half months now. We had a tough time getting his release and just got it not long ago,” said McInnis. “He’s played two games with us but he has to go to Ontario soon. He’s on our roster but I can’t guarantee that he’ll play regularly in the playoffs.
“Coach (Ryan) Tobler will make those decisions and he has quite a few players at his disposal.”
As for Einhorn, a Red Deer native who played four WHL seasons with the Chilliwack Bruins (now Victoria Royals) before attending the University of Waterloo — and playing with the Warriors — for four years …
“There’s a kid who’s been a breath of fresh air,” said McInnis. “He’s Mr. low maintenance on and off the ice.
“He’s quiet and assuming. The bar was set low for him, we didn’t know what to expect. His university coach spoke highly of him as a person and a player and he’s done a heck of a job for us so far.”