Fans, peers honour Trevor Linden’s 19-year hockey career

VANCOUVER – It was almost like the end of a Stanley Cup playoff series as players lined up to shake hands.

But Trevor Linden was the only Vancouver Canuck who went through the entire lineup of the Calgary Flames after a 7-1 loss Saturday night.

It was an unusual tribute for Linden, arguably the most popular pro athlete ever to perform in Vancouver.

“For someone who doesn’t like attention, it was a little difficult,” said Linden who hasn’t revealed his future plans. “At the same time, it was a special night.”

It has been widely expected that Linden would hang up his skates after this season when he received limited playing time.

“At this point, I don’t feel right talking about it,” Linden said of retirement after the game watched by his parents from the stands.

He received several ovations and at the start of the third period players from both teams backed away from the centre circle before the puck drop to allow him to bask in applause.

“It’s been an emotional week from our standpoint, from having an opportunity to go to the playoffs to not getting there,” Linden said. “At this point, I’m just going to take some time and reflect”.

The six-foot-four, 220-pound Linden, who turns 38 on Friday, finished his 19-season NHL career by being a healthy scratch for 23 games.

A Canuck for 16 of those seasons, he holds the club record with 415 assists. He scored 318 goals, second to Markus Naslund, and had 733 points.

He finished his final campaign with seven goals, five assists and 12 points.

He got his 412th assist as a Canuck on Nov. 8 to surpass Stan Smyl and it’s likely Linden’s No. 16 will join Smyl’s retired No. 12 in the GM Place rafters.

During his NHL career which included trades to the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals, he had 375 goals, 492 assists and 867 points.

That moved him past Eric Lindros and into 99th spot on the league’s all-time points list. He also had 34 goals and 65 assists for 99 points in 124 NHL playoff games

“For our team it was an honour if it was Trevor’s last game to play against him,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla who called the Calgary players off the bench at the end of the game. “What he’s done for us guys on the ice and also off the ice … so it feels pretty good tonight.”

Linden was president of NHL Players Association during the difficult lockout season of 2004-’05.

“A lot of us watched him when we were younger,” Iginla said. “He’s played for so long and also playing against him.

“He’s a guy who plays hard all the time, he’s a leader.”

Calgary defenceman Adrian Aucoin, who didn’t play Saturday but was a teammate of Linden’s in Vancouver, said he had never seen a gesture like the one organized by Iginla.

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“Who knows, maybe he’ll have us all fooled and come back next year – not by the looks of it,” Aucoin said.

Linden had 18 minutes 11 seconds of ice time, seven more than his average, as the Canucks tried to set him up for a likely career-ending goal.

He came close a couple of times and early in the game fired a puck off the stick handle of Flames goalie Curtis Joseph.

After being traded in 1998 to the Islanders by Mike Keenan, Linden returned to Vancouver for good in 2001 when he was dealt by Washington for draft picks.

He played this season on a US$600,000 one-year contract and finished with seven goals, five fewer than 2006-’07, five assists and 12 points.

His most memorable game this season was a two-goal effort March 30 that sparked the Canucks to a 6-2 win over Calgary and kept Vancouver’s playoff hopes alive.

He also led the Canucks in playoff scoring last season with seven points on two goals and five assists. Both goals were game-winners.

He is best known for leading the Canucks to only their second Stanley Cup final appearance in 1994 when they lost to Mark Messier and the New York Rangers in seven games.

The most enduring image of Linden is a glass-shattering hit near the corner boards during that Cup campaign.

“I don’t know what his decision is going to be, but I thought our fans showed a lot of class tonight towards him and Markus,” said Canuck coach Alain Vigneault. “And I thought the Calgary Flames showed a lot of class at the end there by doing what they did.”

Naslund, who earns $6 million a season but has seen his production tail off the last two seasons, becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Linden has five career hat tricks. His best season was 33 goals, 47 assists for 80 points in 1995-96.

Linden was drafted second overall in 1988 behind Mike Modano after he led his home town Medicine Hat Tigers to consecutive Memorial Cup titles.

He stepped right into a Canuck uniform and became the first Vancouver rookie to score 30 goals. He was also the team MVP that season and second to Brian Leetch in 1988-89 Calder Trophy voting.

He was named the Canucks’ youngest captain at age 21 at the start of the 1990-’91 season.

Linden, who lives in the city’s upscale Kitsilano district, is well known for his charity work for children. He won the NHL’s King Clancy humanitarian service in 1998.

“To have the time and courage to do the things he’s done off the ice with sick children and meeting families is amazing,” Aucoin said. “He’s made so many lives so much better.”

This season he’s the Canuck nominee for the Bill Masterton Award given to the player best exemplifying sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to the game.