Smith would see his first NHL action the following season, 1965-66. Gary started, and lost, against the New York Rangers on February 19th, 1966. Over two seasons, Smith would play in five games for the Leafs, going 0-4-0, 3.62.
As a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise, Smith's antics included attempting to punt the puck up into the scoreboard and stickhandling the puck into the opposition zone in an attempt to score a goal. Smith inspired a NHL rule change that would penalise goalies if they attempt to cross centre ice as part of the play.
Gary was left exposed in the 1967 NHL expansion draft and was selected as the 11th goalie in the draft, by the California Seals. Smith would overtake veteran Charlie Hodge by the Seals sophomore season in the NHL, and by the 1969-70 season, Gary was a league leader... in losses. To prove it was no fluke, Gary not only led the league in losses in 1970-71, but set a NHL record by losing 48 games.
OPC was fairly brutal to Gary during his playing days. No offense Gary, I am sure the ladies appreciated your cards, but your card career was full of mug shots and photo day poses. Only the 1977-78 OPC comes close to pleasing to goalie card aficionados. So for a bonus, I'll update a few of Gary's OPC card fronts with action shots.
|1970-71 OPC Gary Smith|
For the 1971-72 season, Gary Smith went from the doghouse, the last place Oakland Seals, to the penthouse, the West division top team, Chicago Black Hawks. Smith followed up his record setting season in futility by sharing the Vezina trophy with Tony Esposito. Smith had 5 shutouts in 28 games for the Hawks on 1971-72.
|1972-73 OPC Gary Smith|
After another season backing-up Tony Esposito, Smith was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Where he promptly led the league in losses for the third time in his career. The 1974-75 season saw a re-alignment of divisions and the Canucks thrived in the newly created Smythe division, finishing first. Smith led the league in games played, 72, and finished third in All-Star balloting. Unfortunately for the Canucks, the first round was not a divisional match-up but instead teams were ranked based on points, which meant the 88pts Canucks had to face the 113pts Montreal Canadiens. The Canucks lost in five games.
|1974-75 OPC Gary Smith|
Smith played another season with the Canucks before being traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Cesare Maniago. After a mediocre season, Smith signed as a free agent with the Washington Capitals in 1976 but was sold back to the Minnesota North Stars later the same season. Smith left to play in the WHA in 1977 and signed on with the Indianapolis Racers. Smith would go 0-10-1 with the Racers before the team folded 25 games into the WHA season. Smith was picked up by the Winnipeg Jets and finished the season on a hot streak, back stopping the team to an Avco Cup league championship. Smith allowed the last goal in WHA history to Dave Semenko.
|1978-79 OPC Gary Smith|
When joining the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets retained their rights to Gary Smith. Smith started the Jets first NHL game, October 10, and registered the first Jets NHL win, October 14, versus the Colorado Rockies. Smith eventually slid down the depth chart behind Pierre Hamel, Markus Mattson and Lindsay Middlebrook. Smith finished the season, and his career, with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.
Gary Smith wore a mask for the majority of his career, up until his final season. When he switched to the helmet/cage combo, he painted the helmet two colours. I cannot recall another goalie doing this. When I saw the image and discovered Gary was lacking a final year card; his previous was a head in the 79-80 set, I decided to act.
|1980-81 OPC #400 Gary Smith|