Trevor Linden turned down Princeton University to play for his hometown Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, joining them at age 15 for five games. He was an important contributor as a 16-year-old and a team leader the next year.
"He was pretty special at that age," said Rob DiMaio, a teammate on the two Memorial Cup-winning teams and the 1988 gold-medal winning World Junior team. "He was lanky and had a lot of skill. You could see his potential, skill level and determination. He had such a great work ethic.
"We had a lot of veterans the first year and you have to pay your dues, so he moved around the lineup quite a bit," DiMaio said. "We had injuries and he got an opportunity in the second half to play a more pronounced role. He established his name and piqued a lot of interest. We came together as a hockey team, a close-knit group of guys. Oshawa was the dominant team that year, but we found a way. It was our year.
"Bryan Maxwell, our coach, left for the NHL and was replaced by Barry Melrose, a guy who had just finished playing, so we had new systems. We had a lot of players at pro camps, so we didn't get off to a good start. Again, we came on in the second half and had momentum into the playoffs. Everyone assumed Windsor would roll through the Memorial Cup and they beat us in the preliminary round. We had our eyes opened and knew what to expect in the final.
"Trevor was dominant through the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup," DiMaio continued. "He was an all-around star, not a one-dimensional player. He killed penalties and was our best defensive forward. He was a very grounded person and my roommate at the Memorial Cup."
"We probably had 10 guys at pro camps at the start of the 1987-88 season," Melrose said. "That's usually a disaster for a junior team. I knew they had won the Memorial Cup and they were talented players. We had a rough start. Trevor proved to be one of the best 17-year-old junior players ever. We jelled near the end of the season, and Trevor was everything I hoped he'd be and more, a coach's dream.
"He's from an unbelievable family that stressed all the right things," Melrose said. "He was raised to be a leader and a great person with a great work ethic. God gave him the physical ability to go along with that great character. Trevor and four other Tigers' players went to the World Juniors and we won our five games without them. When they came back, I think we lost three games the rest of the season. It was very, very rare in those days for a 17-year-old to play in the World Juniors."
"Trevor was at the top of that group of guys who were driven and knew what they wanted," said Russ Farwell, general manager of those Tiger teams and now the general manager of the Seattle Thunderbirds. "He was beyond his years, leadership-wise. And sharp, in tune. My staff and I were trying to gather information on the Ontario teams before the Memorial Cups and he knew more about those players than we did. He was really a sharp guy, into what he was doing and driven to be an NHL player."