Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Last shift for Trevor?

Once again the Vancouver Canucks can be thankful Trevor Linden was in the lineup, in a game which resembled non contact pond hockey at times and ended in a thorough 7-1 thrashing Saturday night at the hands of the Calgary Flames, it was Linden’s presence on the ice that probably saved the Canucks from the wrath of their fans.

Any other season ending on such a sour note as the last few days has provided for Vancouver, might have found the fans a little less than enthusiastic about the home side. Most other years they would most likely not have been as hesitant to express their disappointment, but with Linden taking to the ice for the season finale, there would be no venting of frustrations by the crowd, just respect and cheers for their former (and always) captain.

If the amount of punditry before, during the game tonight and post game would have it, Saturday night was Linden’s last skate in the NHL. His has been a remarkable career, which for the most part was played for a Vancouver Canuck team, through all those different uniforms good, bad and the ugly.

The heart and soul of the Canucks is still a presence large in Vancouver, the face of the franchise for so many years, was always a quality representative of a franchise that has not always put its best foot forward in the city it calls home.

And while his output has declined in the last few years as well as his ice time, his dedication to his team and his now adopted city has never wavered. It is interesting to note that in these final weeks of the season, it was Linden who seemed to be trying to lift this team off the ice it had stumbled upon.

Alain Vigneault who had made Linden a game time scratch for far too many games this season, suddenly added on the ice time for Linden as the season began to come into peril. It was always a puzzling strategy put in place by the Canucks' coach, which seemed to marginalize one of the few assets that his team had. Vigneault's sudden change of on ice assignments over the last month of the season, seemed to hit a payday one week ago, when it seemed that Linden was ready to once again take the Canucks into the playoffs on his back.

That remarkable game last Saturday night against Calgary, had Vancouver thinking of the playoffs and Calgary doubting if just a bit if they were going to make the jump. Of course as events played out over the next few days, those roles would be reversed before the Flames even landed in Vancouver one week later.

By the time the two teams took to the ice tonight, the showdown status of the game had long since been tossed aside. Calgary playoff bound, played loose while Vancouver now vacation bound, exhibited more of the troubles that bedeviled them all year round.

Roberto Luongo started the game but was long gone as the second period started, the scoring touch of many of the teams “A” list players never materialized and defensively the flaws were there again, much like they had been for much of the last half of this season.

Ordinarily a scenario like that would be the cauldron for an ugly night for the home side, but with Linden taking to the ice for the third period, the fans again as they had done many times in the past rose to salute the rock that this team had relied on for many years.

The game as it should be was an irrelevant statistic, merely game 82 in a long season now complete, instead it became an opportunity to bid a public farewell, just in case (and most likely as it will be that) Linden decides that his days in the NHL have come to an end.

Such was the sense of respect for the player and the game that even as Calgary piled on the goals the fans responded in a positive fashion to Jarome Iginla’s 50th goal. It was a sign of respect for achievement, which befits the fans of a team that had been led by a player of Linden’s stature. We suspect that if this had been a more meaningful game in the playoff hunt, the reaction to Iginla’s goal would have been a little bit different, but on this night partisanship was not on the agenda. Instead it was a night for respect, for the game and for a leader.

In one of the better moments for a sport that could use a few more of them (hello there family Roy), the Flames stayed on the ice at the end of the game, as each one took time to shake the hand of Linden, a sense of moment that seemed to stem from the leadership of Iginla, the Calgary Captain who seems to grow in stature with each passing season.

It was a genuine and impressive sign of respect, which a player such as Linden will probably appreciate and remember long after all the other salutes have faded.

From that defining moment of class from the Flames the Vancouver fans took over, cheering their forever in their hearts captain all while the Flames left the ice, carrying forward the cheers to Linden’s first star selection and finishing them off as he handed over his sweater to a lucky Vancouver fan, part of the annual year end sweater give away that has become tradition in Vancouver.

Number 16 may automatically become a collectors’ item, if as the sooth Sayers predict this was Linden’s last skate.

The official announcement if it comes will arrive later on in the spring or summer. Though to think of Linden leaving Vancouver once again to rattle off a couple of years in some other NHL outpost seems unlikely. He was always a Vancouver Canuck, even when he was doing the gypsy thing in the Eastern Time zones. Three lost years for Canuck fans that will never, ever be forgiven.
While one day the official retirement ceremony will come with its trappings and gifts. On Saturday night Vancouver remembered the Linden years by memory, no need for the fancy video screen presentations and such; this was a more heartfelt emotional farewell. It was a shared bond between player and fan, without the interference of management, public relations flacks or the media.

Champions should always go out on a high note; and though this season was truly a disappointment for many Canuck fans; nobody will ever point a finger of blame at Number 16.
While there will be no Stanley Cup parades down Robson street with Trevor Linden holding the cup, he brought this team closer than it sometimes seems that they may ever get. Saturday night, the crowd remembered his leadership and drive; they remembered those heady days of success (and shared disappointment) and most importantly saluted the true foundation of their franchise.

If you’re Trevor Linden, one of the best to ever wear a Canuck uniform, you can’t go out any better than that.

Photos from Globe and Mail and National Post websites.

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