Linden’s gifts to the city won’t be forgotten

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For parts of 16 seasons, the Vancouver Canucks were lucky to have Trevor Linden. From the fresh-faced farm boy who scored 30 goals in his rookie National Hockey League campaign to the powerful leader who willed his team to within a victory of the Stanley Cup, Linden was always there when the hockey team needed him.

And that may never have been more apparent than April 5—the night that turned out to be Linden’s final appearance in a Canucks uniform. The Canucks were terrible, as bad as they’d been at any point during the two-week tailspin that cost them a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But, boy, were the Canucks lucky Linden was around that night, as they got roasted by the Calgary Flames. In normal circumstances, things would have gotten ugly at GM Place. But once again, there was “Trev” to save the day, as he’d done so many times before. This time, though, it had nothing to do with a big goal he’d scored, a key face-off he’d won, or a hard hit he’d thrown. It was simply the fact Linden was in the Canucks lineup, and the 18,630 on hand all had that feeling in their gut that they would never see him play another game. So they cheered. And cheered. And cheered some more.

The night quickly became a celebration of the greatest career in Vancouver Canucks history. And, as it turned out, it proved to be a fitting send-off for Linden, who, on June 11, made it official and announced the end of his outstanding 19-year NHL career.

The outpouring of emotion was a rousing thank-you for all that the team’s former long-serving captain had done to entertain hockey fans over the past two decades. But at the same time, the endless ovation was for so much more. The 38-year-old was being saluted for the years and years of service he’d given to so many charitable causes away from the rink.

“It’s quite overwhelming, you know, overwhelming at the same time, not surprised,” Linden had said of the fan reaction moments after his final game. “I’ve been treated incredibly by the city of Vancouver for a long time and the fans of the team. For someone who doesn’t like attention it was a little difficult.”

But it has never been difficult to admire the way Linden conducted himself on and off the ice. As a player, he showed up and played hard every shift. At his peak, he appeared in a pair of NHL All-Star games (1991 and 1992), was a Canadian Olympian (1998) and registered six 30-or-more-goal seasons in an eight-year span (1988 to 1996). All told, Linden played in 1,382 regular season games for the Canucks, the New York Islanders, Montreal, and Washington. He leaves with 375 goals and 867 points—318 goals and 733 points in a Vancouver uniform.

Those are all impressive numbers, but they are hardly the measure of Linden’s contributions during his time in the game. In 1997, the former president of the NHL Players’ Association won the league’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which goes to the player who combines leadership on the ice with off-ice humanitarian efforts. And last month, he was recognized by the NHL Foundation for the hours of charitable work he’s put in over his two decades in the league.

The stories of the avid cyclist and golfer’s work with the Trevor Linden Foundation, Canucks Place Children’s Hospice, the B.C. Cancer Foundation, and other organizations are legendary. And now that he doesn’t have to spend so much time at the rink, don’t be surprised if Linden finds more opportunities to give back to the community.

Over the years, it was never a surprise to see groups of children in the Canucks locker room after practice. Almost always, Linden was the one playing tour guide. And he always did it in a way that put the kids—many of them with special needs—at ease, as if they were hanging out with a friend rather that the most-celebrated athlete this city has ever seen.

“It’s obvious how much he’s loved in this city,” Canucks captain Markus Naslund said of his long-time teammate on the final night of the season. “I wish we could have helped him out and made it a more fun evening, winning the game and getting him a goal. But it says a lot how much he’s meant to this city and to this organization the way that the fans treated him.”

Even though Linden’s role in the hockey club diminished in recent years, to the point where he was no longer an every-day player, his exit still leaves a sizeable void in the Canucks locker room. His poise under pressure was a calming influence on so many of the young players he came into contact with. That was apparent in the way he came through in the clutch, scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Canucks opening-round playoff series with Dallas a year ago. It was also evident when Linden became the Canucks’ shootout specialist on many nights this past season.

The departure of the thoughtful and articulate Linden will also leave the media in this city scrambling for a new go-to guy to replace a player who always had a unique perspective to share, regardless of the outcome of a given game. If he wants to, Linden could easily find a job in the broadcast business, but he’s already dabbling in property development and may devote more time to that pursuit.

Linden is about to take his first steps down the path to the rest of his life. There may be some uncertainty as he settles into a routine that doesn’t involve pucks and sticks, but he certainly has nothing to worry about. The iconic figure must know by now that he’s got an entire city behind him, wishing him nothing but the best. And after all that Trevor Linden has done—and will surely continue to do—for the people of Vancouver, that’s exactly what he deserves.

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Jon Cranny
Top 16 Trevor Linden moments:

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