Once upon a time, Reed Linaker was set to make Penn State hockey history. In early May, 2011, within three weeks of Guy Gadowsky's hiring as head coach, Linaker committed to PSU for this past season. The timing of the pledge made him the first player on board for 2012-2013 entry (the initial NCAA campaign, obviously) and as it pre-dated those of 2011-2012 Icers notables Tommy Olczyk, Justin Kirchhevel, Taylor Holstrom, Nate Jensen and Bryce Johnson, it was probably fair to call Linaker the first scholarship player in Nittany Lions history. Or even the first pure NCAA player, if you want to go that route.
At the time, he was more than first, he was a very exciting add. The Edmonton-native forward was nearly Wisconsin bound before the Badgers ran out of scholarships, and in a day before anyone knew Penn State would beat UW in year one, getting someone who received a hard look from a storied program was a big deal.
For his part, Linaker posted stellar numbers with the AJHL's St. Albert Steel: 193 points in 162 regular season games for the perennially below-average team, one that relocated after an abysmal 9-48-3 2011-2012 season. He was shipped off to contending Brooks in December of that year - then took a knee-on-knee collision in his second shift with the Bandits and was out until the AJHL finals, where he played in a pair of games to help the title-winning effort. He had previously torn his MCL in 2010-2011.
Brooks lost out to the BCHL's Penticton Vees in the Doyle Cup, which was formerly awarded to the winner of a series between the AJHL and BCHL champions, with the winner advancing to the RBC Cup national championship tournament (Penticton, featuring Curtis Loik, ultimately won the RBC Cup). With that, Linaker headed off to Penn State. For a while, anyway.
The signing of the 2010 World Junior A Challenge selection was announced by the school on November 21, 2011, at which time Gadowsky said that "Reed is a great playmaker and has the uncanny ability to see the ice and make plays that others do not see." As the 2012-2013 season approached and the team's roster was posted, Linaker was assigned number 26.
Our story takes a turn in early September 2012, when Linaker suddenly disappeared from that roster. Dom Morrone, who was not part of the initial group of Icers set to make the NCAA transition, was added around that time. I asked Gadowsky about Linaker's status following PSU's 3-2 upset of RIT on October 20th, and he said that "he has a medical injury, and that's why he's not playing."
I took that at face value, assumed he was still having issues with his knee, and that was pretty much it. The season proceeded and kept everyone busy while Linaker, who never played a game as a Nittany Lion (although he was often spotted at the rink in a suit with the scratches), was largely a forgotten man. By the time the 2013-2014 roster was posted this month, naturally without him on it, I actually had to be reminded of the whole situation.
The Pipeline Show, the Edmonton-based radio program that is required listening in the junior hockey world, didn't forget. Host Guy Flaming tracked down Linaker and had him on Tuesday night to discuss what happened at Penn State, as well as his future plans. The following is a transcript of his appearance, followed by the university's response. If you want to listen for yourself, because tone of voice and things like that matter, the archived show is available here.
Guy Flaming: How are you tonight Reed?
Reed Linaker: Good, how are you guys?
GF: Doing fantastic. We want to talk to you about what happened last year, and maybe more importantly what happens now. But let's go back and start from your AJHL days - I believe you ended it with the St. Albert Steel, oh no, you had a very brief cup of coffee with the Brooks Bandits, didn't you?
RL: Yeah, actually I was at St. Albert there for three and a half years, then got dealt to the Brooks Bandits at the deadline, and got injured in my first couple games there, but was able to come back for playoffs and enjoyed a league championship. Unfortunately we lost out in the Doyle Cup, but it was a great experience for myself.
GF: Right, that's what I recall now. Tell me when Penn State became clear to you that that was the program you wanted to be a part of when you got to the NCAA. What was it about Penn State that just seemed like the right fit?
RL: It just offers a two-for-one package, I find. It's a good academic school, great academics. For the most part, I thought I would have a good opportunity to play. Gadowsky seemed like a great coach, I liked the offensive tempo. So I mean, just the two-for-one package was a huge draw for myself.
GF: Okay, let's get to it: what happened last year? Because you look up the Penn State Nittany Lions' stat sheet, and you're not on it. And speaking with coach Guy Gadowsky before the season began, you were one of his key recruits out of the AJHL. So what happened?
RL: Long story short, I basically had heart problems as a younger child, was getting that all cleared up. Before training camp started, we needed physicals done. Went through my physical process, they wouldn't clear me until I had spoke with my Canadian doctor. After speaking with my Canadian doctor, they figured it would be best if I had one more simple procedure done before clearing me. So I didn't pass my physical right off the bat, came home, had the procedure done, came back just before the season had started with my full clearance. My medical bill of health was totally clear, I was completely healthy, came down, and when shown to the Penn State doctors, they basically said 'it's good that you're healthy, but we still can't clear you as an athlete here at Penn State.' They basically told me I would never, ever be cleared. So it's still kind of a foggy situation as to why I was never medically cleared, I don't know if I'm going to get a straight-up answer to that question.
GF: Alright well... heart issue. I'm sure there are several different varieties and different levels of seriousness. It's something you said you had since you were young, and you played junior hockey with it. How serious was this, I mean was it something you definitely needed to get corrected ASAP, can you give us some kind of background, explain it a little bit?
RL: Yeah, sure. Basically, my heart was a little faster than normal. For the most part, obviously at the beginning it was a serious matter, obviously being the heart, we were a little worried as to what was going on. But as we figured out what was going on, the last few years it was basically normal for me. I mean, I played junior hockey throughout it. Even in the recruiting process with Penn State, I told them about it, and it wasn't an issue for me. I know getting injured... going down with a fairly serious knee injury, that was my worry. Even going into my physical, I figured the knee would be the biggest issue. I didn't even go down thinking that my past history with my heart was even going to come into line. Apparently it did, and it definitely caught me by surprise when they weren't able to clear me.
GF: Where do you go from here? I know you're hoping to get back on to the ice, but there are some complications for that.
RL: Yeah, I mean, I'm kind of in a tight bind here, kind of just weighing options and looking at what's best. Obviously I want to go NCAA. I like the idea of playing hockey and getting an education paid for. As of now, just kind of keeping my options open. I could potentially maybe go towards [the University of Alberta] but basically just training as if I'm going to be playing next fall and just going from there, seeing what the future holds for me. Obviously in terms of NCAA programs, I'm kind of in a tight bind, not really able to transfer into another scholarship, that kind of puts me in a sticky situation. As of now, I have a few options out there, we're just going to see what's best for my future and come to a decision within the summer here.
GF: Well, like you said, you know you're not going to be playing for Penn State. According to you, they told you that they would not clear you. Do you know if your situation - you say you have a clean bill of health now from your medical team - can you go to another NCAA program, and do you know if they would clear you? I know there's the whole issue about having to redshirt, and I'm told that if you transfer to another Big Ten school there might not even be a scholarship option available. So there are lots of complications, but medically, could you go play for another NCAA team, or would that other program say the same thing that Penn State has?
RL: Medically I can definitely play. To be honest, I'm just as medically healthy as any individual playing hockey at the moment. Knees feel fine, my heart is fine, I've been told to not even come back and see my doctors, so I would be shocked if I went anywhere else and they told me otherwise. As of now, I'm as healthy as I've ever been, and I should be able to play.
GF: So are you talking to any schools, whether it's Big Ten or any of the other conferences south of the border, or do you look at CIS programs as an option?
RL: During the school year, I have to look at a couple of options. The NCAA has a couple sticky rules. Obviously the redshirt thing. Transferring, obviously you have to sit out a full year. The Big Ten schools... before committing to Penn State, I had serious conversations with a couple Big Ten schools. I'll obviously talk to them in the fall about the situation. The only problem being, as you mentioned earlier, when transferring to a Big Ten school, you're no longer allowed a scholarship. So I mean it comes with a steep price tag to go play at those schools. Coming from a family of six... the big thing for me playing junior hockey is I wanted a scholarship, I wanted school paid for. So if I'm potentially going to pay for school and play hockey, the U of A seems like the best program. A great hockey program, still great academics, and they compete for national championships year-round. It all depends what happens in the future, we'll see what happens this summer. I'm just down to play where I can develop best, playing hockey and to the highest level possible is the goal. If I can't fall back on that, at least I have my education and I can go in that direction as well.
GF: Is there any kind of appeal option? Can you talk to the NCAA - like the regulatory branch of the NCAA - and try to get a ruling on... a player gets hurt in the early part of the season, and they can kind of use that as a redshirt season and come back as a freshman. I'm thinking of a guy like Rocco Grimaldi at North Dakota was hurt very early on his freshman season, sat out the rest of the year, then came back and still retained his freshman status. I don't understand why that would be different for you if you're medically able to play, why you would have to sit out another year. It seems like red tape that you could maybe clear up through some appeal. Is that an option, is there any kind of appeal procedure for you?
RL: Through the NCAA, I'm not aware of any, I've looked into it, and we haven't found anything. There is an appeal process through Penn State, just the institution itself, through that appeal, what they can do is if they feel you've been wronged, they can offer me my full scholarship still. I could still go to school there for potentially four years and have it paid for. The only thing they can't do is they can't go against the doctors and say 'ok, we can clear him to play.' I could go to school there, but I would not be allowed to play hockey. As for the redshirt thing, if you're injured in any sort of competition, you're allowed to redshirt obviously. What their mindset was, I came on to campus with this injury knowing that I had the injury, so that's where things get a little fogged up where they think I came down with this injury, therefore all those redshirt rules are somewhat voided to a certain extent. I don't even have all the answers. It's a very frustrating process, obviously I got down there and within the first week wasn't cleared. I wasn't able to travel with the team, wasn't able to practice, wasn't even able to work out with the team. I basically just turned into a Penn State student. Wasn't allowed to skate at any time with the team, wasn't allowed to physically do anything.
GF: Well, it's a very unfortunate situation. I did reach out to Penn State and we're going to try to get their side of the whole story as well and see where it goes from here. I guess the Pro Hockey Life Question of the Night is what happens now for you? I mean, you're still exploring your options, but do you see yourself back on the ice? I mean, you have that opportunity to get school paid for, which is what you said you wanted, but you also want to play. Where do you draw the line, what's the deadline, where do you really have to make a final decision?
RL: My fallback option would be the U of A, still a very good hockey program. I want to play hockey though, so if that means semi-pro somewhere... regardless. If I have the opportunity to play and get my name out there, I'll definitely look into taking it. As of now, it's kind of tough having missed the last year. But we'll see what comes, and worst-case scenario, then yeah, I can attend the U of A and play hockey there and obviously compete for national championships with those guys. They tend to have a pretty strong squad year after year it seems.
|PSU team physician Dr. Peter Seidenberg, who addressed the Linaker situation in a statement.|
Photo: Joe Hermitt/The Patriot News
At the conclusion of the interview, Flaming read a statement from Penn State, issued through Dr. Peter Seidenberg. Seidenberg is the Penn State team physician with responsibility for men's hockey and several other sports. If the name rings a bell, it's probably because he was a central character in Sports Illustrated's lame attempt at stirring up controversy surrounding his replacement of Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli as the physician for PSU football in a story published last month.
"Penn State disagrees with Mr. Linaker's conclusion that he was cleared to play. Penn State cannot provide additional specific information due to HIPAA privacy protections. However, we must underscore that the university's determination was based on its student-athlete's safety and the physical standards required by Penn State's policies and procedures."Analysis? I don't really have any. It's an unfortunate situation. I don't blame Penn State for sticking by their doctors' determination - even Flaming mentioned that they're putting player safety first, and that's commendable. I also don't blame Linaker for disagreeing with that determination, wanting to play, and seeking a place that will allow him to do so while getting an education.
Regardless, best of luck to Reed Linaker moving forward. Here's hoping that we may yet see him play in Pegula Ice Arena, although on the opposite bench from where he was expected.