Thursday, April 10, 2014

TREVOR LINDEN's 1965 red Mustang is five years older than he is and a classic for all the right reasons.
None of these flashy reptilian Teutonic-Italio imports with more curves than a swimsuit calendar for Johnny Canuck. The Vancouver rookie likes 'em simple, swift and honest.
Back in The Hat (as Linden calls his hometown of Medicine Hat) he keeps a stock Datsun 240Z for off-season spins and has helped his dad restore a 1956 T-Bird - the classic of classic cars.
Classic. The noun-adjective of the '80s. While boomer-oids pine for all things classic (rock & roll, Coke and Gilligan's Island), sports fans, too, yearn for the classic aesthetic - the purity of a Johnny Unitas, the elegance of a Jean Beliveau, the integrity of a Stan Musial.
In an era where sports pages headline marital spats, splits, slips and suits, along with drug suspensions and mega-million-dollar contracts, who doesn't yearn for the bubble-gum-card universe of square-jawed brush-cutters and good old-fashioned, simple-minded hero worship.
Trevor Linden is a little too young - 18 - to humble oneself before quite yet but the Canucks' rookie right winger and first-round draft pick (second overall) should have "classic" stitched somewhere on his jersey.
At a long and hard-edged 6'4" and 200 pounds Linden has been cut from the classic athletic mold. He also carries a classic resume. Two Memorial Cups as a Medicine Hat Tiger and a World Junior Championship a little over a year ago in Moscow. In his last year as a Tiger he led the team with 46 goals and 64 assists in 67 games.
And there is his talent. Workmanlike but aggressive, swift and honest.
Linden's work ethic has paid off with a precocious 22 goals - three in his last two games - and 17 assists in his first 53 NHL contests. Dennis Ververgaert's rookie 26 goals (1973-74) is an endangered record and once again people are mentioning the Calder and Linden in the same sentence.
Canucks veteran Harold Snepsts, who rooms with Linden on road trips, says he's almost afraid to compliment his young teammate. "I've seen so many good rookies get praised and seen some of them buckle under the pressure."
But Snepsts says if anyone can handle the burden of being a No. 1-draft pick and a media favorite, it is Linden.
"He's one of the few young guys I've ever seen who's got his head squarely on his shoulders and isn't caught up with the glamor of the whole thing. He gets praise but it doesn't change a thing. He just accepts it quietly and keeps on working hard at the game."
Snepsts says Linden is - pardon the adjective - a classic hard-nosed, hard-working player - with a bonus.
"I'd compare him with Stan Smyl and say that he can put the puck in the net more naturally."
Brian Burke, the Canucks' player personnel director, isn't afraid to heap praise on Linden.
"If he doesn't win the Calder this year, there should be an investigation, Burke says. "He's the only candidate who's playing well in all three zones."
"He's not as flashy as a (Mike) Modano but he's got fast hands and a big-time shot. If the Canucks can find a centreman who can feed him the puck consistently he's gonna score a lot of goals. He's the type of player who just rises to the occasion. The better team he plays on the better he gets."
But performance and styling do not a classic make. A true classic must have character and Linden's team loyalty, self-discipline and innocence seem to be some Norman Rockwellian dream exported out of some mythic small-town past.
While the NHL's first pick Mike Modano played hold-out games with the Minnesota North Stars until his signing last month, Linden quietly signed a four-year deal estimated at $700,000.
"The money is good, sure, but I'm still playing for the love of the game," Linden says.
Linden is sitting in the living room of the British Properties home where he is a season-long houseguest of the Robinsons, Joanne and Harry. Joanne, the former wife of one-time Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull and mother to St. Louis Blues' right winger Brett Hull, says she had some apprehensions about taking in an 18-year-old stranger for the season (Burke made the request) but says Linden has fit right in as part of the family.
"You couldn't ask for a nicer young man," she says. "He has so much character for a boy his age. He won't just be a leader in hockey; someday he'll be a leader in the community."
Linden is barefoot in jeans and sweatshirt and sports a close-to-the-bone haircut you might call early Chuck Yeager. You are struck at once with how young he looks out of uniform. But then again he is young. He just finished high school last June and still can't walk into a pub - legally.
Thanks to Robinsons' 18-year-old daughter and her friends, Linden has a social life. But he says girlfriends and the party-animal life are not part of the routine.
"Right now I'm more concerned with just staying in the NHL," he says.
He is an effortless interview, unless you include the difficulty in trying to get Linden to say a negative word about anything or anybody. He will, for instance, tell you his worst problem in adjusting to the NHL involves parking.
"If you want to go out with friends around here you always have to worry about where to park," he says. "In the Hat, you never even thought about it."
And that's about how difficult Linden's promotion to big-city life has been so far.
"For a lot of rookies the biggest problem is just getting over the awe of playing against players like Wayne Gretzky," Linden says. "I just didn't let that get to me and found I could still make the same plays as I did in junior. What was helpful was the fact I played a lot right from the beginning. I've got to give coach (Bob) McCammon credit for that."
Everything he says is nice. Positive. The right thing for an all-Canadian kid to say. Sure, there's the occasional four-letter expletive, but it only makes his ingenuousness seem all the more genuine. It's strange but you kind of want to shake him upside down at times - to see if some unwholesome crumb of vice might fall out. But no - not even pocket lint.
But then "character" - one of the attributes that gets attention on the scouting sheets along with stickhandling and skating speed - is something Linden exudes in buckets. It's a trait he says he's labored at along with his slapshot.
"It's something I've worked hard at," he says. "I guess I have to give credit to my Mom and Dad. My Dad got everything from hard work and being honest and my Mom has shown me how to treat everyone fairly and be a good guy."
However, Edna Linden, Trevor's mother, says Trevor was "awfully strongheaded" as a boy.
"You wouldn't want to get in a confrontation with him - if you know what I mean," she says.
Edna says she likely cured his temper when she kept an 11-year-old Trevor away from practice after he lost his temper during a game.
"He was fine after that but he is still very strong-willed. "
Mom and Dad may have taught Trevor how to be a nice kid but they didn't teach him a thing about hockey. The middle child in a litter of three boys, young Trevor fashioned a dream of his own making.
"Ever since I can remember - and this was every kid's dream in the Hat - my dream was to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers. Hockey was everything to me. It's all I thought about from when I was in grade two."
But Linden says realizing his dream wasn't easy.
"To this day I don't feel like I'm particularly blessed with talent," he says. "I've had to work for any of the success I've had."
Work, here, means more than just skating morning to night in the winter and playing street hockey as a summer obsession. It means building a custom hockey net in your dad's shop - a net with targets in the corners.
"We'd set that up in the backyard and take shots forever," Linden says.
If Linden uses determination to chase down dreams, it may be because of something in the Linden geneology.
Grandpa Nick Linden, a former speed skater in his native Holland, was pinned under a Caterpillar tractor 20 years ago and was later told by doctors that his crushed leg would have to come off.
But Nick said no, suffered through 34 operations and willed his strength back through a curious form of positive thinking.
"He would pace around at night with a cane," Linden says, "repeating over and over, 'Bull----! I can walk!' "
And he can. "I have some problems with the leg when it gets cold," says the elder Linden, 77. "But otherwise it's okay."
He says he remembers Trevor as a 10-year-old running combines "and doing just about anything else you asked him to do" on his uncle's farm.
"He doesn't give in. He's kind of a perfectionist," says the grandfather. "Trevor is a lot like me. When he sets his mind on something, no one can stop him."
"I'm happy here," he says. "Happy but definitely not satisfied. There are a lot more things I want to get better at. I could work on every part of my game for two hours a day and still not be satisfied. If you limit yourself, you know you're in trouble."

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