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Linden's career one of service to others

by Rich Libero

Trevor Linden, who announced his retirement on
Wednesday, speaks after receiving the 10th annual NHL Foundation Player Award at the NHL Awards presentation during the Stanley Cup Final.
Linden retirement press conference
Fourteen years ago this month, Trevor Linden and the Vancouver Canucks came to within a whisker of winning the Stanley Cup. Their journey fell one goal shy in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

But the thing Linden remembers most about that playoff run isn't that he scored two goals -- including a shorthander -- in Game 7 of the 1994 Cup Final or the enduring image of an exhausted Linden, blood dotting his sweater, hugging goaltender Kirk McLean after Game 6 of that same series.

What Linden remembers most was the weather: "We just had a really good team that came together at the right time," he said. "It was a great spring. I remember that the weather was so great and it was sunny and warm -- and now it's not -- and the city was just electric."

Twenty years to the day that he was selected second overall in the 1988 Entry Draft, Linden announced the closing of his 19-season NHL playing career.

"Today is an emotional and exciting day for me as an athlete and a person," Linden said. "It closes one chapter of my life, my playing career, while opening up another which I am very much looking forward to. The game of hockey has been good to me and I would like to thank my family, former teammates, coaches, managers, support staff and the incredible fans that have been so generous in their support of my career."

There are a number of people in Vancouver who would certainly like to reverse all those thanks. Scouts pegged Linden as not only a solid on-ice performer and potential franchise player, but they also predicted he would one day evolve into an NHL captain.

A mere three years after being selected by the Canucks, Linden had a "C" stitched to the front of his sweater, making him the youngest captain in the League at the age of 21.

But Linden's impact on Vancouver expanded beyond the rink.

"Like my brother Dean said to me a long time ago, he said, you have an amazing gift. He said he can't walk into a room and make a difference and you can so take advantage of it," Linden said.

The native of Medicine Hat, Alberta, certainly took his brother's challenge to heart. In 1995, he established the Trevor Linden Foundation to help terminally ill children. He worked tirelessly with British Columbia Children's Hospital and Canuck Place, a hospice for children battling cancer, Camp Goodtimes, Ronald McDonald House of B.C., the Canadian Cancer Society, B.C. Cancer Foundation, Kids Help Phone and the Michael Cuccione Foundation, as well as many other causes. All told, he has helped raise more than $25 million.

In 2003, Linden received the Order of British Columbia as a "hockey player and humanitarian" and this year he received the NHL Foundation Award for his charitable efforts.

"I go back 20 years to when I first came to the Vancouver Canucks, and it was the Griffiths family's vision to build Canuck Place, and Pat Quinn and Brian Burke who taught me how to be not just a hockey player but a part of the community," Linden said after receiving the NHL Foundation Award in Pittsburgh on June 5. "And today, Debbie Butt and her staff, Karen Christiansen, make it possible for us to do both -- play and do what we can do for the community."

Linden is a refreshing reminder that professional athletics aren't always about winning trophies or scoring big contracts. While he was unsuccessful in bringing a Stanley Cup to Vancouver, Linden's work within the community leaves a lasting and vivid reminder that there is something more to life than just sports results.

"It's been a very special journey. I think the minute you visit or interact with a child you instantly realize how fortunate you are to have been healthy," Linden said. "And playing hockey and talking to kids is a pretty natural connection. Plus, the kids are so strong and so fearless, it's inspiring. I want to thank those children for allowing me into their lives."
Amazingly, Linden said the hardest part of the job isn't the children, it's the parents. 
"It's normally the parents I spend more time with, because the kids are so upbeat and ready to go, but it seems to be most difficult for the parents."
Linden also realizes that his one trip to the Final proved not only a difficult journey, but a rare event that should be cherished and not taken for granted.
"Obviously when you come into this game for me my only goal was to win a championship and to win a Stanley Cup," Linden said. "I had that opportunity in 1994 and we lost a Game 7 and it was the only chance I had."

Linden rides off without a championship ring on his finger, but a fulfilling career that includes 1,382 regular-season games, 375 goals and 895 points, a King Clancy Award, the honor of captaining team Canada in the Nagano Olympics and an integral role in the recent labor negotiations as then-president of the NHL Players' Association.

Will he be considered a Hall of Famer? In Vancouver, he's been in for a long time.

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