You Know He’ll Play: The Leadership of Trevor Linden

“You can’t imagine what it’s like to hear your captain, in a room down the hall, screaming at the top of his lungs as they injected the needle into his rib cage. Knowing him, he probably thought we couldn’t hear. He would then walk into our dressing room like nothing had happened. That was inspirational.”

In a 2008 article with, teammate Cliff Ronning summed up Trevor Linden’s leadership on the Vancouver Canucks’ 1994 Stanley Cup run perfectly: a leader who was willing to sacrifice personal comfort and health for the good of his followers’ play and morale. His perseverance in those games served as inspiration for his teammates in the series that they would ultimately and heartbreakingly lose: “I broke my hand in that game,” Ronning recalled. “But how do I say I can’t play when there’s a guy who has played four games with broken ribs and torn cartilage and he’s dropping his shoulder into guys to make plays?”

While Linden, the 2nd overall pick in 1988 NHL Draft, is renowned for his leadership as a Captain with the Canucks and New York Islanders, an Alternate Captain with the Montreal Canadiens, and President of the NHL Players’ Association, he also devotes and donates significant time and resources with charities and foundations in the Vancouver community. Linden has since been appointed to the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada for his ongoing sportsmanship and community engagement as a respected leader both on and off the ice.

Linden may have huge influence in one of the largest cities in Canada today, but he comes from small beginnings, being born in Medicine Hat, Alberta on April 11, 1970. And while he would later go on to be mentored by Canuck legends such as Pat Quinn or Stan Smyl, he’s been set up well for a leadership position since he was a child. According to his father, Lane, in a 2005 ESPN article, “[as] a young kid he was so responsible and so mature. If he said he would do it, it was done”. The article continues on by relating the story of how Linden decided to stick to his roots by shunning a scholarship to Princeton University to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He would go on to lead the Tigers to two Memorial Cups (1987, 1988) as well as winning the gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors Championship (1988), all while taking summer classes for high school. He would be drafted to the Canucks in June of 1988, ending his extremely successful junior career in Medicine Hat.

Trevor Linden embodies authentic leadership – while he was a leader on the ice, he was also a leader off it. Under coach Pat Quinn, the Canucks started getting more involved in the community, especially with kids. This is something that they still practice regularly today. In a 2008 Globe and Mail article, anecdotes chronicle Trevor’s dedication to the community went beyond the required effort. “He didn’t just go with his teammates when they made their annual Christmastime appearance at the Canuck Place hospice for kids. He’d go on his own, week after week, month after month, year after year, without a camera in sight.” Integrity and enthusiasm are some of the most important traits a leader can have, and Linden certainly didn’t lack in either. While he credits his brother, Dean Linden, for inspiring him to use his position for good, Trevor doesn’t do what he does begrudgingly. “Some of the visits were tough, especially early in my career. Sometimes you don’t get much out of the kids, but you talk to the parents the next day and you hear what an impact the visit had.” As the Canucks’ President of Hockey Operations, since 2014, his tenure has continued programs that the Canucks encourage, including the Trevor Linden Community Spirit Scholarship, which goes to a young British Columbian who makes a difference in their community. Linden also heads the Trevor Linden Foundation, which supports children and families facing life-threatening illnesses… charities in BC, Montreal and New York have benefited from the generosity and commitment of Trevor and the many hockey fans, sponsors and businesses who have donated to their programs.

The effects of Trevor’s leadership have not gone unnoticed. While playing in the NHL, Linden won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1997, given to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community as well as the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2008, the year Linden retired – given to the player who applies the core values of (ice) hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community. Outside of the arena of hockey, Linden has been awarded by both the provincial and federal governments, being appointed to the Order of British Columbia in 2003 as well as the Order of Canada seven years later in 2010 – both for his efforts in the sports world and the local community.

In a CBC article from 2008, one child was greatly impacted by the Canuck captain:

Four days before he died, Michael Robinson had one of the best experiences of his short life. The 14-year-old cancer patient was Trevor Linden’s caddy at a 1997 charity golf tournament. The hockey star had recruited him for the job six months earlier. “I honestly believe the reason Michael lasted in this world as long as he did was because he had Trevor by his side,” Michael’s sister [said.]

The heart that Trevor Linden poured out into the community and into Michael Robinson’s life was the same heart he poured out for his team in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994. After taking a couple injuring hits in Game 6, Linden skated to the bench and caused play-by-play announcer Jim Robson to exclaim the inspiring words:

“Linden has been chopped down, he’s crawling towards the bench. Linden has been injured. Now he’s hit again by Messier going to the bench. Messier hit Linden when he was down on his knees. It could get a bit ugly in the late stages. Linden has struggled to the bench. But there is going to be that seventh game, we’ll hope they can patch Linden up and get him in that one. He will play, you know he’ll play! He’ll play on crutches! And he will play at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The game is over!”

Linden’s perseverance and self-sacrifice on the ice was evident that series, and it’s been evident from his actions in the community as well. He is someone who has been and still is respected by his mentors, peers, employees, and even his toughest rivals. His work for the community speaks for itself. Everything that he touches, he makes sure it has a positive impact on the community. As Linden said himself in a Global News interview:

“Leadership is not always about the person who stands up and gives the speech. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. It’s the leadership quality that’s important, whether on the ice or in the boardroom.”




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