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Eric Lindros

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Eric Bryan Lindros (born February 28, 1973 in London, Ontario, Canada) is a professional ice hockey player. His once promising career has been clouded by frequent serious injuries and a headstrong approach to the game's politics. Eric Lindros has Swedish heritage. His great grandfather Axel immigrated from Sweden to Canada, and Eric is from the third generation of Lindroses to have been born in Canada. "Lindros" means "Rose of the Linden tree."

As a teenaged power forward playing minor hockey, Lindros became nationally famous both for his scoring feats and his ability to physically dominate players up to six years older than him. Lindros played for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League for parts of three seasons from 1990 to 1992. During that time, he scored 97 goals and had 119 assists in 95 games played. He attended St. Michael's College School in Toronto with his brother and fellow hockey player, Brett Lindros. Lindros' play made him the most highly valued amateur player in North America and he was often nicknamed "The Next One," a reference to Wayne Gretzky's moniker "The Great One."

A controversy arose when Lindros refused to go to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after they drafted him. Lindros had already stated his intention not to join the Greyhounds, but Greyhounds owner Phil Esposito had drafted him anyway, enabling Esposito to sell his share in the team at a higher price. Lindros was traded to the Oshawa Generals instead, and when they played the Greyhounds, some Greyhound players wore black armbands in protest of Lindros' antics.

Lindros' entry to the National Hockey League proceeded in much the same manner. Lindros was selected first overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. Lindros had signaled in advance that he would never play for the Nordiques, going so far as to refuse to wear the team's jersey on draft day; the team selected him knowing that they could command a high price in trade. In 1992, the Nordiques worked out trades for him with both the New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers. Eventually, an arbitrator by the name of Larry Bertuzzi – uncle of NHLer Todd Bertuzzi – ruled his rights belonged to the Flyers, for whom he played from 1992 to 2000, most of the time as the team's captain.

Many consider this trade a key reason that the Colorado Avalanche, which the Nordiques became in 1995, went on to be an NHL powerhouse. They received in the trade Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, a 1st round selection (Jocelyn Thibault) in 1993, a 1st round selection (later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, later traded to the Washington Capitals - Nolan Baumgartner) in 1994, and $15,000,000 cash. Since the trade, the Avalanche have won eight division titles and two Stanley Cup championships, due in large part to the play of Forsberg and Patrick Roy, whom the Avalanche received in a package deal that included Thibault.


Second Sucks

He’s tanned. He’s rested. And he’s still pissed about getting blown out of the stanley cup finals. Eric Lindros lines up for another run at the top of the NHL.

He spends the summer morning in the dentist’s chair. Painless. He spends the afternoon fielding questions about his team’s encouraging new change in coaches. Better than painless. All day long, nobody tells him he’s in a choking situation. Approaching comfortable.

And then the subject of the 1997 Stanley Cup finals comes up, as Eric Lindros knew it would. Somebody get the Novocain. “In the finals…” Lindros begins, but even the preface to his playoff postmortem triggers a pained pause before he gathers himself and starts anew. “The finals are just a blur. We got off on the wrong foot and stayed on that foot for four games.”

It is one root canal of a memory. The hockey world stood ready last season to anoint him the sport’s most dominant player, to replace the mantle of The Next One, which after five years in the NHL had grown a little tight around the shoulders, with something more contemporary. Something with a championship cut.

As if according to a script, Lindros and his Philadelphia Flyers dispatched Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins, then easily handled a New York Rangers team led by Wayne Gretzky—the original Great One himself—and Mark Messier, whose hockey card a reverent Lindros used to carry in his wallet. When Lemieux, who’d already announced his retirement, told the 24-year-old Lindros in the traditional post-series handshake line that his time had arrived, the news was received as a pronouncement, a papal puff of smoke. When Messier, the prototype of skill, size, and fire that constituted a virtual blueprint for Lindros, added a similar center-ice endorsement, the Flyers’ final showdown with Detroit begged to be cast as a coronation, not a contest.

Hockey romantics eagerly awaited the collision of drama and destiny. The Red Wings gave them a train wreck. “The wheels fell off; that’s the bottom line,’’ Lindros says, mulling the memory of a 4–0 Detroit sweep. “It was terrific for me to hear words of encouragement from some of the greatest people to play the game—ever. And we did well for three rounds. But in the fourth, we fell apart and faced a terrific hockey club. And we were dominated.”

In retrospect, unvarnished analysis revealed some sound reasons why the Flyers may have been ripe for defeat. Suspect goaltending. A depleted defensive corps. Weak power play. A retrenched Detroit team that, after harsh back-to-back playoff disappointments, felt entitled to a little destiny of its own. “They had it going on,” Lindros acknowledges. “What do you say?”

Here’s what you do not say, when your team stands on the brink of elimination in the Stanley Cup finals: “It is basically a choking situation….” There may have been a grain of truth in Flyers coach Terry Murray’s words, spoken only hours after Detroit put a 3–0 stranglehold on the series. But his failure to say it behind closed doors, directly to his players, appeared to cost him whatever fragile allegiance remained after the team’s shocking collapse.

But it has been weeks since Murray’s firing. And on the day that former Boston Bruin great Wayne Cashman is named the Flyers’ new head coach, Lindros diplomatically dismisses the “choking” brouhaha with blunt code. “Confidence is a major part of sports, and hockey is no different,” he says. “We’ve got younger guys on our team, and they look for confidence from other players and the coaching staff. Confidence was tough to come by.”

And for many days after the demoralizing defeat, clear perspective was no easier to find. Lindros has always taken losing hard, and to heart. He commiserated with Cup-tested veteran teammates Paul Coffey and Petr Svoboda, who have summer cabins near his own a couple of hours north of Toronto. He fished with Svoboda, golfed with Coffey. Turned the Detroit series over and over with both of them. But frustration still stewed.

He reacted with a mixture of horror, anger, and sympathy when, only six days after Detroit celebrated its Stanley Cup victory, Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and the team’s massage therapist lay in comas after their chauffeur-driven limousine crashed on the way home from a golf tournament. “I’m an extremely lucky person,” Lindros says. “I live a great life. And now here’s somebody, Konstantinov, who beyond the fact of whether he plays hockey again, you hope he can do the things he was able to do prior to the accident. Hockey is the bonus, bonus, bonus of this entire situation. Having my brother with his concussions”—Brett Lindros retired in May, 1996, at age 21—“I realize there’s more to life than hockey. Hockey is great; it’s a terrific sport, the best sport in the world. But life is life.”

Carl Lindros, Eric’s father and agent, acknowledges that his son felt deeply the tragedy that befell a competitor like Konstantinov, and that brother Brett’s premature retirement from hockey helped Eric put his sport in clearer focus. But none of that changed what happened to him on the ice in the Stanley Cup finals. “I know it’s taken Eric almost to now to where he could get away from the depression of losing to Detroit,” says Carl. “How long has that been—a month?”

Then again, Lindros was never so close to the Grail. “We weren’t that far away,” he says. “We were second, but it sucks to be second.” Summer is a time to regroup, to retool. Not to panic. To put Lindros’ disappointment in the ’97 finals into context, consider that Messier did not win a Stanley Cup until his fifth season; Gretzky also won his first in his fifth NHL season, after a year in the long-defunct World Hockey Association. It took Lemieux a full seven seasons to finally drink from the Cup.

This autumn, Lindros enters his sixth year in the league. His hairline has begun to recede, but nothing else about him is diminished. The Detroit series was hell on ice. But these things pass, however slowly. New coach Wayne Cashman puts a premium on communication—something that Lindros, an avid admirer of Chicago Bulls coach-guru-communicator Phil Jackson, sees as essential to the Flyers’ leaping to the next level. And so, amid another cycle of change and renewal, there also seems in the career of Eric Lindros to be a logical progression. He has now been close enough to taste the sweetness of a championship, only to spit out bile. And one of the hard lessons of 1997, one with a particular resonance for him, appears to have been a realization that there is no magic—that what he once identified as almost superhuman will is basically a potion composed of talent, work ethic, and a liberal dash of luck.

Certainly, the best players have to perform, and we didn’t. I didn’t have a great series. But you get bounces. You’ve got to work for your bounces, but it’s nice to have them. We were getting a lot of bounces early in the playoffs, but we didn’t work hard enough in the finals to find some more. There are some things to take from it—the experience of being there, of knowing, the next time, how it’s done. You learn to deal with all the media attention, how wild the rinks are, and then you get to know how you react in certain situations, how you can alter your focus and go on from there.

He pauses, catching a momentary glimpse of the brighter side. “Obviously,” he says, “I’d much rather go to the finals than get knocked out in first round.” And later he tries to sum up his feelings coming out of a difficult year. “The bottom line is, I treat every day as fun. The biggest thing for me is to be able to look back, after however many years, and feel lucky to play this game and be with some great people, to experience the highs and the lows, and know in my heart that I gave it everything.”

Kevin Simpson. Second Sucks. . September 1997.


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