VANCOUVER, B.C. - Vancouver Canucks fans had a chance to cheer their favourite player one more time Wednesday night as Trevor Linden's jersey was officially retired.
Linden wiped away a tear as he watched his No. 16 raised to the roof before a cheering crowd of 18,630 at GM Place. "This is an incredible day," said Linden, 38, who spent 16 seasons as a Canuck. "To the fans of Vancouver and the province of B.C., it's hard to express my gratitude to you tonight.
"Thank you for letting me into your lives. Thanks for being incredible, passionate hockey fans."
Linden's sweater joined Stan Smyl's No. 12 as the only two jerseys retired by the Canucks.
"It's a great honour to be here tonight to celebrate with Trevor," said Smyl, who remains part of the Canucks organization. "It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since the two of us took to the ice together.
"To this day I am very humbled to have my number hang in GM Place. Trevor, to share this honour with you is a great thrill."
The hour-long ceremony, held before the Canucks game against the Edmonton Oilers, featured players from past Canucks teams. Also in attendance was Linden's wife Cristina, father Lane, mother Edna and Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL.
There were video tributes from Pat Quinn, Vancouver's former coach and general manager; former teammates Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison; golfer Mike Weir; and basketball player Steve Nash, who was raised in Victoria.
The current Canucks team skated on the ice wearing No. 16 jerseys with Linden's name on the back.
Defenceman Mattias Ohlund, Linden's roommate for seven years, said the long-time Canuck combined skill on the ice with commitment to the community.
"Everybody knows about the hockey player he was, but he also was a great teammate and mentor," said Ohlund. "He set the perfect example both on and off the ice."
Afterwards, Linden said it was an emotional experience watching the banner with his name and number being raised.
"That was pretty amazing," he said. "For me it was just like my whole career went through my head. It was the final chapter."
Linden may have failed in his attempt to lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup championship but when the Medicine Hat, Alta., native officially retired in June after 19 seasons he left as a winner in the public's eyes.
His contribution to the team and the city was marked earlier in the day when the main entrance and reception area for guests entering GM Place was renamed Gate 16.
Usually poised and in control, Linden was surprised by his number being hoisted on the building. The ceremony was held outside, in heavy falling snow.
"I'm totally caught off guard," he said. "It's very special for sure.
"To have a place at GM Place in perpetuity is incredible. I'm somewhat shocked and overwhelmed and a bit speechless for sure."
Bettman praised Linden not only as a player, but as an ambassador for hockey.
"There could be no finer representative not only of the NHL, but of professional athletes anywhere," Bettman said.
Linden was head of the National Hockey League Players' Association during the labour dispute which cost the 2004-05 season.
Bettman said the two "worked together through some difficult times" and said Linden "demonstrated extraordinary leadership and extraordinary courage."
Linden played 1,382 NHL games with the Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. He had 375 goals and 492 assists for 867 points.
He spent 16 years as a Canuck and said Vancouver always was his home.
"That happened very quickly," he said. "It was very easy."
He became known locally for his charity work, something Linden said team ownership encouraged.
"Part of your duty was to contribute off the ice and in the community," said Linden, selected second overall by Vancouver in the 1988 draft. "That was something that was stressed early in my career.
"It was never a burden. It was always something I enjoyed. Once you start getting involved in the community it becomes home."
Linden's finest moment as a player was when he led the Canucks to Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final before losing to the New York Rangers.
He also led the Medicine Hat Tigers to consecutive Memorial Cup titles and was a member of Canada's Olympic hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
For years, hockey was the biggest part of Linden's life. Since retiring he's spent time mountain biking, skiing and enjoying life with his family.
He's had "some conversations with different people" about returning to the game in some capacity but is in no hurry to make a commitment.
"I am trying to figure out what works best for me," he said. "I've promised myself I would take a year or two and try and figure out what area is best for me.
"I love the game but I want to make sure that's the place I want to be. I'm not sure of that yet."