A stand-up, rugged, no pain no gain, guy’s guy with an abundance of raw athletic skill and a personality as genuine as his handshake.
That’s just the way Trevor is, according to his older brother Dean.
“Trev’s the kind of guy that if he had decided to go get a business degree instead of play hockey, he would be running some major corporation by now.”
Luckily Trevor chose hockey and from his early years growing up in Medicine Hat, AB, his parents Lane and Edna and brothers Dean and Jamie knew he was destined to become great.
Trevor began playing the game he is now synonymous with around the age of six, roughly the same time Dean, then eight, started lacing up his own skates.
The brothers took to the game with unwavering passion, like many Canadian kids, but before long Dean realized that Trevor was a natural on the ice; skating and stick handling were instinctive to him.
“I remember one time, I was playing on a rep team in a league above Trev, it was Easter time and we had some guys away so we were short on players. We had Trev play with us in a tournament and he was probably our best player,” recalled Dean.
“We knew then that something was up with him.”
Linden’s adolescent growth mirrored his ascension in hockey and as he climbed the ladder through bantam and midget, his hometown Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League took notice.
In 1985-86, Linden appeared in the final five regular season games and six playoff games with the Tigers, scoring three goals over that span, before earning a roster spot with the team the following year.
Medicine Hat had lost to the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL final in 85-86, so the Tigers were hungry for another league championship berth in 86-87. Linden was a big part of that becoming a reality.
Dressing in all 72 regular season games, Linden amassed 36 points as Medicine Hat captured a division title. In 20 playoff games, he contributed nine points, as the Tigers became WHL champions and eventually Memorial Cup champions.
Facing the OHL’s Oshawa Generals in the Memorial Cup final, Linden had two goals, including the game-winner, as he put the hockey world on notice that he had arrived.
“I was at the Travelodge in Medicine Hat, just off the Trans Canada Highway, watching the final game of the Memorial Cup and Trev was being interviewed after they won,” reminisced Dean.
“He had won the player of the game and he was 17-years-old, he wasn’t even draft eligible, and I remember thinking then, oh my god this guy is going to play in the NHL one day.”
Another Memorial Cup win was in the cards for the Tigers and Linden prior to him making the leap to the NHL; it was evident by Linden’s development in his second year in Medicine Hat that he was ready for the pro ranks.
In 67 games during the 1987-88 WHL season, Linden had 110 points, then added 25 to that total in 16 playoff games as the Tigers were again crowned WHL champions.
Linden was the driving force behind a second consecutive Memorial Cup victory as he recorded seven points and was named to the all-star team for his outstanding play throughout the tournament.
Legendary Tigers broadcaster Bob Ridley, who has called all but one Medicine Hat game in team history, still vividly remembers Linden’s time in the WHL.
“He was just a real heart and soul type person who would do whatever it would take to help his team win a game,” said Ridley.
“Whether it was helping load the bags on the bus, getting in a timely fight standing up for one of his teammates or scoring a big goal, coming up with a big hit — he did it all.”
Thanks to Linden’s standout play in Medicine Hat, his big league fate was sealed and it was just a matter of who would select him in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft.
This is where the Vancouver Canucks came into play, as they were lucky enough to have Linden available when the team made the second overall pick in the draft.
Bob McCammon was Vancouver’s coach when Linden joined the team for his rookie season in 1988-89.
“You could tell right off the bat that Trevor was going to be a great player,” said McCammon, who coached the Canucks from 1987 to 1990.
“He was a breath of fresh air. He was anxious to play and he was excited to play and he showed his enthusiasm all the time.”
As Linden’s comfort level in Vancouver rose, it became clear that leadership was a major part of his game.
McCammon recalls one early instance, in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, when Linden took the reigns and got a lot more vocal on the ice.
“I think the score was 2-1 for us and the face-off was in their end, there was about 25 or 30 seconds to go in the game.
“Trevor was going in to take the face-off, I don’t know if he was playing on the wing or at centre, I can’t remember; anyways he went back to Harold Snepsts, who was on the point, and said, ‘now Harold, look at the clock, we’ve only got 30 seconds, don’t do anything foolish, don’t come jumping in.’
“Harold came to the bench after the game, he was laughing and he said to me, ‘I’ve been in the League 15 years, this guy is in his first year and he comes back to tell me to play it safe.’
“That’s the kind of kid he was. He was outspoken, he was opinionated and he was a good leader,” said McCammon. “If you had 16 Trevor Linden’s on a team, you’d win most nights.”
From his NHL debut on October 6, 1988 against the Winnipeg Jets to his final game on April 5, 2008 versus the Calgary Flames, Linden exemplified all that is good about sports and professional athletes.
He put his heart and soul into the game for 19 years and his career numbers speak for themselves.
In 1140 games with the Canucks, Linden scored 318 goals (2nd all-time) and dished out 415 assists (1st all-time) for 733 points (2nd all-time).
Every Canucks fan has their favorite memory of Linden, which he provided in abundance for over 15 years in Vancouver.
From becoming the first Canucks rookie to score 30 goals in a season and his 482-game NHL ironman streak, to the grit and determination he displayed in the 1993-94 run to the Stanley Cup finals and his enthusiasm in returning to Vancouver during the 2001-02 season, the Linden highlights are endless.
For many, Linden’s performances in the clutch and the reality that he always played for the logo on his chest and never the name on his back are what made him great, but Captain Canuck will instead go down in history because he is defined by intangibles.
Linden never lost touch with reality despite all the luxuries his talents allowed him. During his playing days he was a humanitarian and philanthropist, the likes of which hockey has rarely seen.
Through the Trevor Linden Foundation and his time spent with Canucks Place and the BC Children's Hospital, Linden changed the lives of ill children in ways he’ll never understand.
“His commitment to his team and to community was of equal meaning and equal importance and he was intelligent enough to recognize that early on in his career,” said Canucks Associate Coach Rick Bowness, who also coached Linden during his time with the New York Islanders.
“He was committed to both. Trevor was one of those rare individuals you enjoyed being around every day because of that.
“To me, Trevor epitomizes whatever a true pro is all about. The way he approached playing the game with his work habits on and off the ice — he’s certainly second to none.”
Trevor Linden is and always has been that
guy. For this and everything else he did for the Canucks, Vancouver, British Columbia and hockey throughout North America, his jersey will be immortalized in the rafters at GM Place.
Linden’s #16 will forever serve as a reminder that working hard and doing what’s right can help change the world for the better.