VANCOUVER – The hardest part about the hardest game Trevor Linden played for the Vancouver Canucks was not the game at all but the drive to it.
It was April 5, 2008, and Linden knew he was driving to the rink as a player for the final time, his 20-year career in the National Hockey League about to end. In a way, this last drive is hockey’s equivalent of The Last Supper.
From the time players receive their first uniform with a number, games are preceded by a drive to the arena.
You start in the back seat of the family car. Heck, you may start in a booster seat in the back seat of the family car. Sometimes you ride with a teammate or a coach in their car. Later, as a teenager or junior player, you drive yourself to home games. On the way to the rink, you feel excitement and anticipation, nervousness, maybe even a little fear. It’s all good. These emotions are why you play.
How many thousands of drives have there been for players lucky enough to build long NHL careers? And every trip taken knowing that no matter how the game goes, there will always be another. Until there isn’t.
“As I was driving to the rink, I knew it was my last time,” Linden, now the Canucks’ president, recalled years later. “I was flooded with memories and emotions, thinking: ‘This is my last game.’ I’m sitting there in my suit, driving to the rink, stopped at a light and I’m crying. Some guy was looking at me through the window, like: ‘What’s wrong with you?’”
Nothing. Linden was just human, and knew what he was losing. So do Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Ten years to the day after Linden, who mentored the twins and helped convince them to stay in the NHL during a difficult transition from Swedish hockey, took his final drive as a player to Rogers Arena, Danny and Hank Sedin make the same journey on Thursday.
Their Hall of Fame careers end Saturday in Edmonton, where the 37-year-olds will either walk or take a short bus ride to their last road game. But after 18 years, their final game in Vancouver is Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Henrik will drive from his Southlands-area home on Vancouver’s west side, swing by Daniel’s place in West Point Grey as he always does, and the brothers will ride together to Rogers Arena. They’ll arrive about three hours before faceoff, grab coffee in the players’ lounge, visit with teammates and staff and and see what games are on TV.
And then they’ll pull on the Canucks’ home blue jerseys one last time and play for fans who grew to love the twins almost as much as they worshipped Linden when he played. Although Linden’s crown has been dented by four years in charge of a team that will finish again near the bottom of the NHL standings, no other players in franchise history are as beloved as these three.
Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights was emotional. Thursday’s game against the Coyotes is going to be a dam-burst of feelings as fans and twins say goodbye to one another.
“Yesterday was perfect,” Daniel Sedin said after Wednesday’s optional practice. “We could focus on the game, and the fans had a chance to appreciate us, too. And we had a chance to thank them. (But) we knew tomorrow’s game was coming up. I think tomorrow will be more emotional. That’s when you realize you’re probably taking your last steps on the ice. It will be special.”
The first unscripted standing ovation for the Sedins on Tuesday did not occur until a television timeout halfway through the third period. The crowd roared again when they appeared for a shift in overtime, then even more loudly when coach Travis Green sent out Daniel, then Henrik, for doomed shootout attempts.
Henrik hasn’t scored in a shootout in his career and Daniel, 4-for-30, last scored in one during the 2010-11 season. But they were absolutely the right call by Green, whose team roared, too – surging back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period.
“I couldn’t sleep last night after the game,” Green said. “Those are memories that stick with you. And your players will appreciate it. It’s a great time for the city right now, just to embrace these two players that they’ve had as their own for a long time. I think everyone should really enjoy the next few days.
“I want to watch warmup tomorrow night – and I never do. I’ll be out there watching.”
The emotions in Linden’s last game were overwhelming, overpowering, as fans, many in tears at the end, celebrated their bond with a player who transcended the sport on the West Coast. The Canucks lost 7-1 to the Calgary Flames and it didn’t matter. It was a once-in-38-years night for the franchise that was born in 1970, the same as Linden.
But a decade later, here it is again.
“Time flies; it will be over before we know it,” Daniel said of the game, although he could have been speaking about his career. “So we’re going to enjoy it. Yesterday was special.
“Tomorrow will be special, too.”