Look up to the rafters in GM Place and you’ll find four banners standing out from all the rest.

Only four jersey numbers have been so honoured in over four decades of the Vancouver Canucks NHL existence. One is Trevor Linden’s number sixteen; more recently Markus Naslund’s number nineteen and Pavel Bure’s number ten were retired. The other player is, of course, Stanley Phillip Smyl, “The Steamer.” There will never again be another Canuck who wears jersey number twelve.

The date was November 3, 1991 when Stan Smyl’s number twelve was hoisted to the rafters at the Pacific Coliseum during an emotional retirement ceremony that represented the end of one stage in Smyl’s career with the Canucks, as well as the beginning of another. At the same event, he was announced as the team’s new assistant coach and has remained in the Canuck organization in some capacity ever since. The Province proclaimed the date “Steamer’s Day.”

Smyl later served as head coach of the Canuck minor league affiliates in Syracuse, Kansas City, and Winnipeg. In June 2004, he was named Director of Player Development for the Canucks.

It’s said that certain players become identified solely with a certain team after a long period of distinguished service and popularity in the same city. Smyl is to the Canucks as Kevin Lowe is to the Edmonton Oilers or Steve Yzerman to the Detroit Red Wings.

Smyl was selected by the Canucks in the third round (40th overall) of the 1978 NHL Entry Draft, overlooked by many teams who felt he was “too small and a weak skater.” It was a familiar refrain throughout his career, but he proved his doubters wrong relying on hard work, tenacity, leadership, and a clutch scoring touch.

In his thirteen seasons with the Canucks, including eight as team captain, Smyl played 896 games, scoring 262 goals, 411 assists, and 673 points, totals that remained club records until recently surpassed by Trevor Linden, the man who succeeded Smyl as team captain. Three times he was named the club’s Most Valuable Player. Smyl’s most productive seasons, including 1982-83 when he collected 88 points (38 goals, 50 assists) came while playing on a line with Thomas Gradin and Curt Fraser.

Perhaps Smyl’s most lasting legacy was in 1982, when he led the Canucks—a group of misfits and cast-offs that gelled come playoff time—to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the New York Islanders in four games. While the goaltending heroics of Richard Brodeur from that run are well known, the undisputed leader on and off the ice was Smyl, the temporary team captain with Kevin McCarthy sidelined with an injury.

Before joining the Canucks, Smyl, though born in Alberta, moved west and played for Bellingham in the BC Junior Hockey League, where he first picked up the moniker “Steamer.” From there he moved onto New Westminster of the Western Hockey League, where he led the Bruins to two consecutive Memorial Cup Championships in 1977 and 1978, attaining MVP and All-Star player honours in the process. He remains the only player in the history of Canadian hockey to play in four consecutive Memorial Cup Finals.

Jerseys have been altered and then altered again, the home rink has moved across town, and players, coaches, and owners have come and gone, but for over thirty years the one constant in the Canuck organisation has been the Steamer.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.