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Linden gets right to the heart of the matter

by Alanah McGinley

"Linden was a player that always, always played with everything he had. While there were times he might be fairly criticized for his play over the years, there was never much call to criticize his heart."
-- Alanah McGinley

It might seem strange to most, but my favorite and most enduring memory of Trevor Linden was represented in a scene which depicts what might have been the most heartbreaking moment of his NHL career. 

It was in the immediate postgame aftermath of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers. While the Blueshirts celebrated their hard-fought victory to the roaring appreciation of the Garden's faithful after the final buzzer, the Canucks were slumped on the sidelines witnessing the atmosphere. And it was in that moment that a cameraman caught Linden in his lens.

Resting on his knees and looking battered and utterly spent, the Canucks' captain watched the celebrations knowing that there was no tomorrow; that he was the leader of a lost fight. And yet, to me, that image is a reminder of his greatest strengths, too.

Linden was a player that always, always played with everything he had. While there were times he might be fairly criticized for his play over the years, there was never much call to criticize his heart. It seemed like he brought his best effort to the ice for almost every game of the hundreds I saw him play. And afterward, he always faced the media and fans to accept the consequences when he made a mistake or when things simply just didn't work out.

So in that Game 7 in New York, 1994, that's what I remember most about Linden. That he did everything humanly possible to find victory, but in the final analysis of that loss he faced the consequences head-on. Painful as they were.

But his many on-ice accomplishments aren't the only thing we'll remember Trevor Linden's career for. My friend Jes Gölbez Ursulak recently shared a personal experience of Linden's community-mindedness from Linden's earlier years with the Canucks.

"Back when GM Place opened in the mid-90s, Linden bought a luxury box dubbed 'The Captain's Crew,'" he wrote.  "Underprivileged kids, such as me, were given the opportunity to attend a hockey game in the most luxurious of conditions."

Many other NHLers have graciously done the same thing over the years, but Linden was one of the first with such a program and it was generosity like that which made him beloved to an entire community in a way that simply being a great hockey player would never have accomplished on its own.

And it's not just Vancouver fans who remember Linden with affection. A Washington Capitals fan, Sean Hogan of DC Sports Plus wrote me to say that even Linden's short time with the Caps was enough to make him a fan throughout the rest of his career. 

"He always seemed focused and professional and I respected him immensely for that," said Sean.

DC Vito, a New York Rangers fan, said something much the same to me this week, "I always saw him as exemplary. He just exuded 'leader.' The kind of guy the league needs more of."

But, of course, it's back home in Vancouver where he'll be missed most of all. It seems like everyone here has a Trevor Linden story, whether it be about his actions on the ice or in the community. His tenure with the Canucks left a lasting personal impression on thousands of fans. 

Another friend and colleague, Rebecca Bollwitt, remarked, "He was one of 'those players', a buddy, an ironman, a quiet force, a community volunteer. He is Mr. Hockey Vancouver for my generation."

I'll second that. 

Raising Linden's banner to the ceiling of GM Place will be a proud and sentimental event for all Canucks fans. We may not have Stanley Cups to line the shelves of our hockey memories, but we've had the likes of Trevor Linden

And that's a career worth honoring as much as any Cup.

Alanah McGinley is dyed in the wool Canucks fan whose blog, Canucks & Beyond, can be read here.
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