Linaker focused on winning
Steel star wants to go far in the playoffs
Saturday, Aug 13, 2011 06:00 am
A healthy and scholarship-bound Reed Linaker is on a mission in his last hurrah with the St. Albert Steel.
“Obviously you want to go out with a bang,” said the talented but injury-prone centre. “I’ve had a couple of good years individually, but a long playoff run to finish off your junior career would be pretty special.”
Linaker’s last game with the Steel was Feb. 4 in St. Albert. He lasted 10 minutes before a dangerous hit by Jayson Ness of the Drayton Valley Thunder turned him into a pretzel, tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Ness was penalized five minutes for charging and was suspended by the Alberta Junior Hockey League for two games.
“My knee is OK now. I’m still trying to catch up to where I should be but, by the start of the season, I should be 100 per cent good to go,” said Linaker, who was wheeled away by ambulance during the game and pumped with morphine to dull the pain at the hospital. “I wasn’t really able to train for most of the summer due to my knee. I just started to get back into the swing of things about a month ago. I haven’t been able to train as hard as I would like but I’m still looking to come to camp in pretty good shape.”
Linaker, 19, didn’t have to go under the knife as feared to fix the extensive damage.
“In talking to the doctors, apparently my scar tissue is really strong. It’s holding it together, the ACL, so they decided not to do surgery,” said the five-foot-nine, 165-pound skater. “They gave me a brace so I will be playing with that this year. I started skating with it about three weeks ago at our [Steel] summer skates. It takes a little getting used to, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it.”
With the second-highest point producer in team history done for the season, the Steel posted only one win their remaining 10 games and were swept by the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in the best-of-three opening round.
“It was pretty frustrating obviously, especially coming back from an injury [Linaker missed seven games with a lower body ailment as the Steel went 2-5]. I was set to make a good run at the playoffs, so to miss all those games and the playoffs was pretty tough, especially the way we went out. Things got pretty ugly at the end,” Linaker said, referring to the humiliating game three 13-2 rout at Performance Arena. “It sucks to sit and watch. Obviously you feel like you let your team down.”
Despite the injury, Linaker was heavily recruited by United States colleges and, in May, committed to the Penn State Nittany Lions for their inaugural NCAA division one campaign in 2012/13.
“It was pretty much talk to me and sell me it. They offered me a scholarship right way so it was kind of hard not to say no,” said Linaker, who will check out the Penn State campus for the first time in early September. “I had some serious talks with Wisconsin, but I figure going to Penn State would be a pretty cool experience. Obviously I can put my own stamp on the program and maybe be the face of the program with some hard work over the next few years. If I work hard, I have the opportunity to be a go-to guy there, so I love that.”
The Penn State bench boss is Guy Gadowsky, an Edmonton product who spent the last seven years coaching the Princeton Tigers.
“I talked to Princeton originally a few years go but it didn’t really go too far, so I hadn’t heard from him until this upcoming year,” Linaker said.
With the scholarship a done deal, Linaker can direct his attention to leading the Steel to their first playoff series victory in team history.
“It’s huge obviously. Things got a little frustrating towards the end of last year. I was hoping to get one, but with the injury, I thought it wouldn’t come,” he said. “Obviously playing with a scholarship is relieving. I can relax a bit on the ice. I can have some fun and not have to worry about it. I know where I’m playing next year, so I can come in focused this year and just focus on having some team success. I would like to go far in the playoffs this year.”
If Linaker can stay healthy — he was limited to 39 points in 47 games in his rookie season because of a knee injury, and “head issues” early in the 2010/11 season forced him to miss some games, as well as the Team Canada West evaluation camp for the World Junior A Challenge — the Edmonton resident has a great shot at putting up some significant offensive numbers.
“I want to stay healthy this year and contribute as much as I can,” said the Steel’s fourth-highest scorer last season with 52 points, including 26 goals in 34 games.
The 2010 Team Canada West player is also poised to rewrite the Steel record book for goals (102), assists (136), points (238), power play goals (44) and game winners (13) — all held by Steel alumnus Bryce Williamson.
“I don’t think about it too much. A few people have brought it up but it would be an honour to do it. Any time you break records, it’s a pretty cool experience,” said Linaker, whose career totals include 82 goals, 91 assists and 173 points in 141 games, plus 33 power play goals, six game winners and a robust 336 PIM.
As good as Linaker is, his younger brother, Cole, may be the best hockey player in the family. The 16-year-old forward will attend the Steel training camp, starting Aug. 22. Ironically, Cole is also coming off a right ACL injury.
“It’s pretty weird. He tore it in May and, about a year later, I did the exact same thing,” Reed said. “I think he is planning on playing with us this year if he is able to crack the lineup. He will go down to Kelowna and do his thing [at the Western Hockey League camp] but he missed his first year of midget, so I don’t think he will be able to make the jump this year. If he comes back, hopefully he’ll play with us.”