PHILADELPHIA – He weaved his way through the crowd of well-wishers and gawkers with the same smoothness and finesse that always belied his size.
Eric Lindros was a one-of-a-kind hockey talent who combined physicality and grace in a way rarely seen in the sport.
For a span of eight seasons, who was one of the most dominating figures in the game – much like Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher in baseball for a shorter span than most legendary players, but was still Hall-of-Fame worthy, Lindros compiled statistics that were only matched historically by the game’s greatest.
However, concussions cut Lindros’ career short – especially at a time when very little was known about the long-term effects of head injuries. Had he better been able to manage those during his playing days, Lindros, now 39, might still be playing the sport, rather than being feted for his accomplishments.
Circumstances being what they are though, Lindros is instead on the banquet circuit now.
And on Thursday evening, he was inducted into the ninth class of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame at the annual induction ceremony held at the Society Hill Sheraton.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “I got word of this a few months ago and have been looking forward to it ever since. The lineup of inductees, it’s a group that has accomplished a lot of good things.”
The group of 16 inductees included Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, 76ers point guard Wali Jones, Eagles greats Tommy Thompson and Maxi Baughan, Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker, and local athletes who made their bones elsewhere like Joe Klecko (New York Jets) and Mike Piazza (Los Angeles Dodgers/New York Mets).
But the highlight was Lindros, who was escorted to the event by his fiancée Kina – the two are planning a 2013 wedding – as the two-hour pre banquet meet and greet had all the attention brought his way.
Lindros was able to steal a nice chunk of time to chat with Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren, whom invited Lindros to take part in the Winter Classic Alumni game last December, offering an olive branch to the former Flyer after his departure from the franchise more than a decade ago was a bit rocky.
Lindros later thanked Holmgren during his speech for that invitation, which has allowed for a lot of healing to take place between the team and one of its greatest players.
“I don’t know,” Lindros said if he thought a decade ago that days like Thursday would happen in Philadelphia. “We’re here now. And I’m honored. I really am. I look back on my years playing here and for the most part, it was fantastic. It really was. I’m happy to be back and honored to be part of this group.”
Part of the reconnection between Lindros and the Flyers has been the ever-growing understanding of concussions and head injuries.
The Flyers have certainly lost their share of players to such injuries – Keith Primeau and Ian Laperriere most famously, and currently Chris Pronger is shelved with the after-effects of an eye/head injury. All have dealt with post-concussion syndrome, something that Lindros battled daily in the latter part of his career.
“Things evolve,” Lindros said. “The word concussion was never used [when I played]. The game has made some changes. Taking out the red line, I’m not so sure that if I were commissioner I wouldn’t oppose it.
“The speed of the players is so quick. If you’re not holding and not impeding people’s progress, any other way to skate in front of him, guys are coming with a huge amount of speed. Defenseman and forwards alike are susceptible to [concussions].
“They are being handled better. People are coming out and saying, ‘This is how I feel. What can I do to get better?’ They are being more up front about it. Teams are taking it far more seriously.”
Regardless of how it all ended for Lindros, when he played, he was a joy to watch – and as exciting as it was for fans to see him play, it was equally thrilling for Lindros to play in Philadelphia.
“I’ve always said they are the best fans in any sport anywhere,” said Lindros, who also had the opportunity to play in such hockey hot beds as Toronto and New York. “
“The fans are passionate here. “You really can’t describe it unless you’re part of it. Wherever you are, people want the Flyers to win. You always had great support.”
Lindros’ career with the Flyers began in the Spectrum, and his play and excitement about his ability led to the buiding of what is now the Wells Fargo Center, which opened at the peak of Lindros’ career in Philadelphia in 1996.
“I’m kind of dating myself here but the old Spectrum, I’ll never forget my first playoff game there [against the Rangers],” Lindros said. “It was so loud for 3½ hours, you could not talk to anybody [on the bench].
“It was that intense. It was a terrific advantage for us and a bit of a jungle for the opposing team. Those were some great times.”
Lindros was also wistful about his time playing with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg on the famous Legion of Doom line that terrorized the NHL for several years in the mid-90s.
“That feeling we had, you know you had something going,” Lindros said. “You could just tell in practice that things were clicking.
“We were having way more fun than we ever did. Things would translate into productivity on the ice. Those were great moments.”
Lindros thanked those players as well as several other teammates. He even had fond memories of a couple of coaches, namely Bill Dineen, and of course the late Roger Nielsen.
Lindros noted a favorite memory of Nielson using a video clip of a flock of geese to explain the importance of team.
“He showed all these geese flying across the screen and it was, ‘Where are you going with this, Rog?’” Lindros recalled. “Well, if one geese fails and falls behind, another one of the flock comes and stays with it and the flock keeps going. But you have to be with your teammates. He tried explaining these with geese.”
Lindros thanked a lot of people from the Flyers organization, joining Holmgren at the Flyers table were assistant general manager John Paddock and Barry Hanrahan as well as former public relations director/traveling secretary Joe Kadlec and public address announcer Lou Nolan.
At the end of the speech, Lindros looked at the table, situated 30 feet in front of the podium, raised his right fist into the air and finished with two words:
“Go Flyers,” he said.
Yes, Lindros was happy to be home.
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