Illustration: Eric Uhlich
Veronica Gaylie encounters Trevor Linden, the Greatest Canuck Who Ever Lived, in economy class.
At airport security I see the broken nose, the million-dollar smile. Every jean-clad Canadian jostles to get a glimpse of Trevor Linden.
It is the second day of the playoffs. We remove our jewellery and our laptops. We remove our liquids, gels, aerosols and creams. We empty ourselves of all metal: cell phones, memory sticks, drill bits and rosary beads. While we lumber through the gate—some of us stopped by the guard, who waves her wand over wedding bands and belt buckles—we wonder what Captain Canuck holds in his pockets. We wonder what a Member of the Order of British Columbia has up his sleeves.
Trevor Linden tosses a set of keys into the tray and sails through the scanner without a beep. He stands a few feet in front of me in his socks. Then he sits in a chair and puts on shoes one foot at a time. Men walk by, try not to gape.
At the gate everyone from floor cleaners to muffin salesmen stop by to shake the hand of the Greatest Canuck Who Ever Lived. Every time he smiles, it is a million dollars. Grown men genuflect.
Now Trevor Linden sits across the aisle from me on the tiny propeller plane. I wonder if Trevor Linden notices that I notice he is Trevor Linden, and I believe the answer is yes. Everyone here pretends not to see him. He is the tallest one on the plane. The top of his head brushed the ceiling of the cabin when he came in.
But it is the way his friend walks up, sits beside him and says, Hi buddy, that tells you: this, truly, is Trevor Linden. Trev. The word buddy has meaning in the presence of Trev. In the presence of the buddy of all buddies, the word seems to echo every time it has ever been said, so that it carries hues and blends and tones never before heard amongst other men who clutched beers on their couches during the regular season, or said, buddy, hand me that hammer, or hey buddy, what’s on tap, all the times when buddy was not said in the presence of other hockey players between periods of do-or-die playoff games, and thus not meant in any deeper way other than hammers and… hey.
To hear buddy in the presence of Trev is to realize that the stakes are rarely high enough to warrant the word being said.
And then, the response to Hi buddy, a mere nod, no sweat. No need to second-guess. In the presence of Trev, buddy is more felt than said.
Another man on the tiny plane leans over and says, softly: Hey. Trevor. Like he is saying, My lord. The King comes nigh. Trevor. (Soft.)
The guy says, We played together that summer. Oh yeah! says Trev, right away, not pretending he doesn’t know the guy. A conversation begins in sentences without endings: How is…? Good… Did you hear about…? Yeah… He had a tough… Yeah, says Trev. Yeah, he says again.
As the plane glides over the former Coquihalla tollbooth, and then the Nut Barn in Merritt, Trevor Linden keeps up a stream of small, powerful words: Oh. Wow. Yeah. Yep.
Everything he says on an airplane is important. When he says Wow, we look. When he says Oh, we learn. When he says Yep, we affirm. Trevor is the centre. When he turns, we turn.
All have abandoned their EnRoute magazine in order to listen to the syllables of the Canucks’ One Love. Something is said about our chances for the playoffs and he says: Yep. But Trevor Linden’s yep is worth a million yeses from lesser men. We gather in the glow of his affirmation. Yess… Yesss… Yess…
Now the friend says: Oh. Hey. Trev. (Soft.)
How do they know the number of guys on the ice?
We all hold our breath, wait for the answer, and wish The Nobody in aisle five would stop rattling a bag of Bits & Bites.
Trevor Linden does not hesitate: There’s a guy upstairs.
Yeah. Says the friend.
He keeps track. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.
We are mesmerized. On. Off. On. Off. Of course. But it is the way he adds, with a hint of jocularity: Ask the goalies. They’ll know.
And that is what makes Trevor… Trev. The perfect restraint. The understanding of time and place. This is why he is Trev and we are we, rattling our snack bags in aisle five and competing for the armrest while Trev remains relaxed even in cramped economy class.
Trevor folds his hands. Sleeps till we land.