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Love affair between Linden, Vancouver continues

by John McGourty / Vancouver Canucks
One number will go to the rafters at GM Place in Vancouver Wednesday night when the Vancouver Canucks retire Trevor Linden's No. 16, but thousands of hearts will make the trip too.

To say Linden earned "beloved" status in Vancouver during his NHL career ranks among the greatest of understatements. And Linden earned the affection of those he played for and with through the heart, soul and determination that makes hockey great.

Pat Quinn, the Canucks' general manager from 1987-98 and coach of the 1994 team, said Linden's greatest accomplishment was solidifying the Canucks as the fans' favorite in Vancouver.

"Trevor was greatly responsible for the change in perception in Vancouver, how that team was viewed and how they changed their outlook," Quinn said. "From the day of his draft, his leadership over the next decade was the reason for this team stepping up. They were able to set different expectations about how they played and who they were.

"People in Vancouver are Canucks fans now," Quinn continued. "When I went there in 1987, we were drawing 6,500 people. Now, it's all sellouts. In those days, the older folks were still fans of the Original Six teams, but now it's a Canucks' city and Trevor had a lot to do with that."

And to think Linden has earned this devout show of affection despite not having won a Stanley Cup. The closest he came was in 1994, when the Canucks were beaten by the New York Rangers in seven, grueling games.

What set Linden apart was the fans were not a faceless group of people in the stands. They were real people and Linden made every effort to interact with them. For example, when GM Place opened in 1995, Linden established "The Captain's Crew," a luxury box for underprivileged kids who are picked up by limousine, taken to the game and given all the free food and drinks they want.

"Community involvement is everyone in the NHL's responsibility, but not everyone takes it to the lengths that Trevor has," said Lanny McDonald, the first King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner and Linden's childhood idol for taking Medicine Hat to the 1972 Memorial Cup. "It didn't matter what the cause was in Vancouver, Trevor was there.

"He was first and foremost as team leader, but he always took other players and educated them on how and why it should be done, with class and dignity," McDonald said. "I couldn't be happier for him or prouder of him that they are retiring his jersey and recognizing him as the model for what all Canucks should strive to be. Regardless of how many goals and assists you get on the ice, it's also about how you handle yourself in your community, with the public and the press, throughout your career."

"To have my jersey beside someone who I admired and looked up to, and as it turned out, also picked up for games in my beat-up '65 Mustang 20 years ago … who would have thought that that kid would have the opportunity to have his jersey beside Stan Smyl?" Linden told reporters when the announcement was made that No. 16 was headed to the rafters. "For me, it's extremely special, because Stan embodies what we hope all our professional athletes would bring. He's certainly taught me a lot, and continues to teach me a lot today. To play for this great franchise for as long as I have, I feel very lucky. To play in this province and this city was a real honor."

Smyl, who was Linden's teammate during many of his 13 seasons in Vancouver, is now the senior advisor to General Manager Mike Gillis.

"When (Canucks President and Chief Executive Officer) Chris (Zimmerman) contacted me and told me what the club was planning to do, I was truly humbled and grateful and very honored," Linden said at the news conference to announce the jersey ceremony. "As a kid growing up, of course, my dream was to play in the NHL."

Linden had 375 goals and 492 assists in 1,382 games. He was traded to the Islanders in 1998 and played two seasons there. He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 1999 and they traded him to the Washington Capitals in 2001. The Capitals traded him back to Vancouver in 2001 and he played his final six seasons with the Canucks, retiring last June.

"He was a great leader and should have always been a Canuck," McDonald said. "It was great to see him go full circle and end up back there."

The Canucks finished fourth in their division in Linden's rookie season, although he was named to the NHL All-Rookie team and finished second to Brian Leetch for the Calder Trophy. They lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Calgary Flames, the Stanley Cup winner, in seven games. It was McDonald's last season and Linden's first and the rookie had seven points in seven games.

"Not only did he show he was going to be one of the best power forwards for years to come but a great leader too," McDonald said. "When you play that way in your first Stanley Cup Playoff and come as close as he did, it took three great Mike Vernon saves to not get knocked out, you have to give him a lot of credit. It was a great start to his career."

Barry Melrose coached the Los Angeles Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, beating the Canucks and Linden in the division finals that spring. Vancouver had finished first in the division that season and the season before. Those playoffs were big disappointments for Canucks fans, but they left a lasting impression on Melrose.

"I saw too much of Trevor when I coached L.A! They were our archrival," Melrose said. "They were a great team and they manhandled us in 1993 but we beat them in six games. We played them 14 games that season. Trevor will always be one of my favorite people and favorite players I coached."

"I got to play on seven NHL teams in 19 seasons and never got an opportunity to play with Trevor again," Rob DiMaio said of his junior teammate. "His legacy is that of a consummate professional. He was a great teammate, a great leader and a great all-around player, not one-dimensional. He did all the things asked of him by the coaching staff and management. The city embraced him. Not many people get to experience that. He brought his family values to the teams he played for. He always put others ahead of himself. Vancouver was very fortunate to have him."

"I think I was a player that had a level of talent, but I think I was a player that had to apply himself properly," Linden said. "I had to work extremely hard and learn from the good people who surrounded me and try to figure out how to be as good as I could be with what I was given. That was one of the things I managed to do well.

"Overall, I just tried to do the right thing, whatever that was, whether it was in the game or outside of the game," Linden said. "Those are the things you learn from the people around you: the Stan Smyls of the world, your family, your friends. They kind of guide you and direct you."
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