For anyone who’s unaware, McKinley himself, despite hockey only being his “hobby,” is author to a great deal of hockey media (Hockey: A People’s History—the book and TV series—most notably, which you can read more about in an interview he & I did a couple years ago) but he’s a hockey fan first and foremost.
And a long-suffering Canucks fan, at that.
So here’s a sample of the conversation we had earlier. I’ll be posting the whole thing as time allows (hopefully later today) plus the audio (Update: Audio now available here. You can download or just listen in your browser).
Alanah: You were one of the lucky people at the Linden retirement ceremony last night. I’m very jealous. Please tell me all about it.
Michael: Well I was very surprised to be there, actually. I know [Linden] a little bit—I’ve written about him a couple times—but I have a friend who’s a good friend of his. My friend, who’s a priest, Monsignor Greg Smith —whose uncle Hooley Smith actually played for [...] the old Montreal Maroons and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, in the curious literaryness of real life. [But] Greg was not really a hockey fan until he met Trevor.
Anyway, Trevor gave him an invitation to the jersey retirement last night, and the invitation for Greg to bring other people and so he invited me.
We were actually in one of the luxury boxes at GM Place, along with, eventually, Trevor and his family. And other notables like Marc Crawford and [others]. So we watched it from up there. They were all down on the ice doing the jersey retirement and we were all up in the box. Watching it up there and eating.
Alanah: Wow. You know all the best people. I never get invitations like this!
Michael: Well, it’s the first time it’s happened to me, too.
It was quite something to be up top, looking down on the entire arena because it was an amazing spectacle. I thought it was very well done by the Canucks. It was long, nearly an hour in length, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt well proportioned and climaxed with the great speech from Trevor Linden, who was as gracious as ever, and showed economy in wit.
It was reminiscent of, some of your listeners may know, Pride of the Yankees, filmed with Gary Cooper who played Lou Gehrig. Lou Gherig was diagnosed with the disease which now bears his name and he makes a great speech at Yankee Stadium about being the luckiest man on earth.
The end of Linden’s speech was a bit like that, where he talked about when you come to the game with your children or a friend and they ask what that banner with his number is, tell them that it means he was part of all of this… this city, this place. And that he was glad to play here.
He connected it to the city, and his own history in the city at large, rather than simply the game, and it was really quite wonderful. It was bigger than him.
As mentioned, I’ll add to this post as time allows. A lot more on Linden, plus we also went off on a Mats Sundin tangent—as us Canucks fans seem to do a lot of these days!—and I’ll provide the audio on that later as well.
Update 2:00pm PT: More of the conversation…
Michael: It was a really eloquent and thoughtful conclusion, I thought, to the jersey raising. It was really moving.
Alanah: That particular point, that was the part that stood out to me, too. It was very typical of Trevor Linden, in a sense, that he made something that was everyone trying to give him something, [into something] about everybody else. I really liked that - that’s the part that had me on the floor. I was looking for tissues. The whole thing of “every time you look at this banner, [...] this is what hockey meant to me.” I was crying.
Michael: Yeah. It belongs to all of you.
There’s only one other one up there.
Alanah: That’s right. It’s not exactly a common thing.
Michael: No, it isn’t. And the other one belongs to a guy who’s still living, who was standing there with him on the ice last night, Stan Smyl.
So it tells you something about—well, two things—that the Canucks take this jersey retirement seriously in that they haven’t papered the rafters with jerseys. Then again, they haven’t had a lot of cause to, either, in their.. checkered history, shall we say?
Alanah: Somehow Mark Messier’s has never gone up. I don’t know why.
Michael: No, and I don’t think it will. Had things turned out differently with [Pavel] Bure, had he stuck around and finished his career here, maybe so.
But [retiring Linden’s number] was a no-brainer.
It’ll be very interesting to see who’s next, when they get around to doing it again. We may have to wait another 20 years.
Alanah: We may indeed.
Michael: I would suggest it could probably be Roberto Luongo, if Luongo leads them to the promised land.
Alanah: Well, it could even be Roberto Luongo if he plays out the rest of his career in Vancouver, and he plays as well as he generally does. If he continually acts as the superstar face of the team, then I think that you’re probably right.
I don’t know that we’ll actually wait for Stanley Cups for these things.
Michael: Yeah, I think we’ll have to take that one off the table, Alanah, otherwise they’ll be nothing hanging up there.
Alanah: Exactly. We’ve got to take our joys where we can with this team.
Michael: And you never know, they may just put Mats Sundin’s number up there if he signs with the Canucks.
Alanah: Oh man. You just had to go there, didn’t you…
More soon. I’ll skip the Sundin talk (although you can hear it on audio when that’s up later) and post the rest of Linden-related things from last night.
Update 2:30pm PT: More—
Alanah: Did you talk to [Linden] at all when he came up after the ceremony?
Michael: Yeah, I did talk to him a bit and asked him about his speech, and actually mentioned the Pride of the Yankees to him, and he was aware of it.
He wasn’t riffing on it, he just said that he was just trying to say what he felt.
He also said something interesting, that he was very moved by the whole experience, slightly amazed by it. That this was the impact he’d had on this city, just being himself.
He said he didn’t have the jitters, he was sort of zen-like about the whole thing. He said when he gets really excited, it’s like when he’s going to go in a bike race or helicopter skiing or something. [But this] was in many ways, as his brother said, like a funeral without the tragedy.
You’ve got everybody there commemorating you, and you’re there, too.
Michael: Talking to his dad last night, Lane, about Trevor, knowing that I write books, sees that there’s probably a book in Trevor. Which of course I know many a publisher has tried to extract. But what his dad [was saying is that] the stuff people would probably want to know would be hard to get out of him. And it’s true.
My friend who spends a lot of time with him, my friend the priest to whom people confess things professionally, said [Trevor has] nary a mean word about anyone. Not even Mike Keenan.
I’ll add a bit more shortly.
Update 2:40pm PT: Actually, I won’t bother putting up any more text. I’ll post a link to the audio here later on—or possibly add it to The Crazy Canucks podcast by tomorrow. The full interview ran about 30 minutes.
My thanks to Michael for the conversation. He’s one of my favorite hockey conversationalists for being the type of guy that knows about a thousand times more than I do, but always makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about.
Plus he’s always brimming with great stories. :)
Update 6:02pm PT:
As mentioned above, audio of the complete conversation is available here. Parts or all of the conversation will also be in the latest Crazy Canucks podcast, which should be online tomorrow.