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Copyright 1998 CanWest Interactive, a division of
CanWest Global Communications Corp.
All Rights Reserved  
The Ottawa Citizen

March 1, 1998, Sunday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 825 words

HEADLINE: Finding the missing Link: Link Gaetz never fulfilled his promise in the NHL, and now he's toiling in the Maritime Senior League. Neil Hayes reports.




Link Gaetz doesn't like to do interviews, and you can't blame him. He doesn't have much good news to report as he completes the final stop of a wasted career.

Gaetz was expected to be a cornerstone for the expansion San Jose Sharks franchise when he was a young defenceman with flowing blond hair, limitless potential and fists heavier than sacks of change.

He was Hulk Hogan on skates. He dropped more gloves than Mark Fuhrman during his three seasons and 65 games in the NHL. Gaetz and former goalie Arturs Irbe are the most recognizable names in the Sharks' brief history. Gaetz remains a tragic and curiously popular figure with the customers at San Jose Arena, even though he is earning about $ 150 per game gooning it up in New Brunswick for the Miramichi Maple Leafs of the Maritime Senior League.

"Usually when they get to this level of hockey, the dream is over," said Maple Leafs general manager Cecil Miller, who works as a mechanic at a paper mill during the day and operates the hockey team in his spare time.

Stories about outrageous behaviour follow Gaetz around like squad cars with flashing lights. He was smashing furniture and throwing fire extinguishers out windows long before the U.S. Olympic hockey team popularized the concept in Nagano, Japan.

When he was a junior player, he supposedly beat up a chef when the steak he ordered from room service wasn't cooked to his satisfaction. When the cops arrived, Gaetz was cooking his own steak in the hotel's kitchen, or so the story goes.

"I've heard all the horror stories about him, but I like the guy," Miller said. "He's trying to leave (his problems) behind him, but he drinks a little. He's got a little problem with that."

Then there was the time Gaetz was busted for attempting to shoot the stained glass out of a church window. He was accused of stealing a television from a former roommate's residence, and he threw another television out a hotel window.

There were two drunk-driving convictions, the second just five months after bruising his brain stem and suffering partial paralysis in a car crash in which the driver was charged with drunken driving.

The 1992 accident almost ended his career and his life.

"Every off-ice problem I've had has been alcohol-related," Gaetz told the Canadian Press in October. "But now it's in the past."

The Sharks traded Gaetz to Edmonton before the 1993-94 season, and he has dropped another rung on the hockey ladder every year since.

The free fall has included stints in the International Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the Central Hockey League, the East Coast Hockey League, the West Coast Hockey League, Roller Hockey International and points in between.

The 29-year-old tough guy has been a Madison Monster, a Sacramento River Rat and a San Francisco Spider, but his career finally has bottomed out. Senior hockey is considered one step above pickup hockey by NHL standards.

"You have to feel bad for him," Miller said. "He is a very personable guy. He has made mistakes over the years, but for a guy who has played as well as he did to drop through the ranks to senior hockey in only a couple years, well, you've got to feel bad for the guy."

Gaetz spent 130 minutes in the penalty box during 11 games with the Anchorage Aces of the Western Hockey League earlier this season and reportedly was banned from several local bars before being waived.

Miller was cruising the Internet when he spotted the transaction. He needed a tough guy to improve his team, and who better than Gaetz? Even at a bloated 240 pounds, 20 pounds over his NHL playing weight, Gaetz can fight.

"Even when we were an awful expansion team, the guys on the other team always knew who he was," Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi said. "Everybody knew what he brought to the table."

A fight with NHL bad boy Bob Probert, then with the Detroit Red Wings, has become part of Sharks legend. Gaetz fought his way to cult-hero status in just 48 games in San Jose. His only legacy is a team-record 326 penalty minutes.

Now he's playing in a town Rand McNally can't find because he has nowhere else to go. All the residents of Miramichi could attend a Sharks game with 15,000 of their closest friends and the arena still wouldn't be sold out.

Most Maple Leafs players work at the mill or are shift workers at other factories in the town near Miramichi Bay, famous for its salmon fishing.

"He's got to think about settling down somewhere and getting a job," Miller said. "He's at an age where if he's going to get into a pension plan that's any good, he's got to do it. He knows that."

We don't know whether Gaetz will heed Miller's advice, whether he's still attending alcohol rehabilitation meetings or whether he plans to go back to college.

Perhaps he's bitter about the way his career turned out. Or maybe he feels fortunate to have survived it.

GRAPHIC: Color Photo: The Ottawa Citizen / Link Gaetz was a fan favourite in San Jose despite playing 48 games with the Sharks -- and amassing 326 penalty minutes.

LOAD-DATE: March 2, 1998

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