Trevor Linden, on the deck of his Point Grey Road home.

Image credit: Gregory Crow

Captain Vancouver

Hockey’s been good to Trevor Linden, and he’s been good to the game, the Canucks and the city. Near the end of a splendid career, he has a couple of items left on his to-do list.

By Michael McKinley

A HEAVY CANOPY OF GREY CLOUDS hung over the city on that Sunday morning in April of 2002, and the light that filtered through the stained glass windows of St. John the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Kerrisdale was pale and sad and perfect for a funeral. Which is why I was in church, for once again the Vancouver Canucks had died in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

I was there not so much to mourn them as to ask forgiveness. I had repeatedly broken a few of the Ten Commandments during that series: worshipping false idols; profaning the divine (and some others); and, when goalie Dan Cloutier—with the Canucks up 2 games to 0 against lavishly favoured Detroit—let in that Red Wings shot from centre ice, breaking the commandment against murder. Or at least thinking about it. I was also there to see my friend Monsignor Greg Smith after the mass he was celebrating, as the good monsignor is a man with impeccable hockey pedigree: he’s the grand-nephew of the Montreal Maroons’ 1930s Hockey Hall of Famer Hooley Smith, and a coffee with him would help me focus on what truly matters to the bereaved fan: the afterlife, a.k.a. next season.

As the mass ended and I walked out, I thought I was having a miraculous vision, for there in a pew at the back sat none other than Trevor Linden. It was hard to believe that St. Trev needed to seek forgiveness for anything in this town. Perhaps he was praying for a Canucks team that would consistently show up the way he did: whether healthy, hurt, or in between, a player who empties his tank every game. His was the kind of constancy that had won him the fickle heart of the city in his first incarnation here as Captain Vancouver.

He’d returned to the fold after a three-year exile, and his second coming had been a good one. Clutch player that he is, he had five points in the six-game loss to Detroit, one of the few “plus players” in the self-destruct. But on that April Sunday, when he could have been hanging at one of his R&R hideaways in Montana, Whistler or Westbank with his wife Cristina—or, had things been different, actually playing in the playoffs—the non-Catholic Linden was at the church to have coffee with his friend, Father Greg.

So it came to pass that we all wound up in Father Greg’s digs sipping coffee, eating pastries and talking hockey. Linden, his playoff stubble gone, his round glasses giving him a scholarly air, and seeming taller in person than 6’4”, didn’t have a lot to say about the Detroit debacle. Instead, he wanted to talk hockey history, something he’d inhaled during his 107 games as a Montreal Canadien. “I was injured for a while,” he said, understating the broken foot, ankle and ribs that plagued him as a Hab, but the silver lining was “sitting in the press box with [sportswriter] Red Fisher and listening to his stories about the great Canadien teams of the past.” He loved Montreal’s culture and élan, and its NHL team. “The organization was tremendous,” he recalls today. “It’s a first-class place to play. Having the opportunity to meet Guy Lafleur and Jean Beliveau and Dickie Moore and Elmer Lach, for me, as a history guy, was pretty special.”

Linden has transcended both the city's short attention span and the various reconstructions of Canuckville to win the adoration of a
couple of generations of Vancouverites, whether they like hockey or not.

Of course, Linden makes clear that Montreal is his second favourite NHL jersey, after those he’s pulled on as a Canuck: the skate going downhill; the angry corporate whale coming up for air; and the jersey that was the perfect icon, the original logo of rink and hockey stick, forming a stylized C—a logo as clean, honest and direct as Linden himself.

“All I ever wanted to do was be a hockey player,” he recalls. He was 17, and had just finished his first full season of junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers, when he realized he just might become one. His team had won the first of its back-to-back Memorial Cups, and he was sitting in the general manager’s office. “He said to me, ‘You know, Trev, you’re going to be a very high draft pick next year, and you may want to think about getting some legal representation.’ I was kind of shocked. That was the first time it actually clicked that it’s real.”

But reality in Vancouver is an ever-shifting thing, and the city’s sense of history can evaporate in the time it takes to tear down an old building and put up a new one. Linden has transcended both the city’s short attention span and the various reconstructions of Canuckville—the ownership changes, the demolitions of Mike Keenan, the overpriced real estate that was Mark Messier, the perpetual work-in-progress called Todd Bertuzzi—to win the adoration of a couple of generations of Vancouverites, whether they like hockey or not.

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