On Saturday, Dec. 31, as part of the Winter Classic festivities, the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers Alumni teams will take part in an exhibition game.
This would be a mere footnote to the actual Winter Classic game which will be played on Monday, Jan.2—just another old timer's game that people would attend and even fewer would seek out on television if not for the participation of one former player: Eric Lindros.
Since it was announced earlier this fall that Lindros would be playing in the Alumni game, it has arguably generated as much—if not more—buzz as the actual game.
It will be the first Flyers' sanctioned event that will include Eric Lindros since Scott Stevens knocked him out of a game with a high hit on Friday, May 26, 2000. And for a generation of fans who watched him play in the orange and black, his return is far overdue and represents a great event in Flyers' history.
Lindros' career was filled with games of total dominance—so many that they all seemed to bleed into one another. When healthy, he was arguably the greatest player in the NHL, as he possessed all of the tools necessary to compete at that level.
He could skate, shoot, pass, back-check, hit, fight—you name it. With so many great games and memories of a great career that have been unfairly lost upon the new generation of Flyers fans—a result of the Flyers basically erasing Lindros' legacy from their history over the past 11 years—I'm sure I've missed some.
This list is not comprehensive, but just a glimpse into the man's greatness.
As Flyers fans every celebrate the team welcoming him back into the fold after more than a decade of estrangement, here is a look at eight great moments in the playing career of the second-greatest Flyer of all time.
Eric Lindros didn't play in the Flyers' game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, April 8, 1998, but that night he went a long way in cementing himself as a leader and great teammate.
That night, the Flyers were beating the Lightning soundly. With 6:31 left in an eventual 6-1 Flyers win, an altercation started during which Tampa Bay winger Andrei Nazarov blatantly, and brutally, sucker-punched the Flyers' Daniel LaCroix, badly cutting the center.
After LaCroix started to fight the Lightning's Darcy Tucker, Nazarov again handed LaCroix a cheap shot by jumping him from behind.
Lindros, who watched the game from the press box, obviously didn't like what he saw.
After the game, in the parking lot of the Ice Palace, Lindros confronted Nazarov and had to be pulled away from pummeling the Russian by his Flyers teammate, Kjell Samuelsson.
GM Bob Clarke had this to say about the incident:
I think it's great. Apparently, our guys were standing around the bus when the Russian came out, and Lindros went over to him...The league wants to talk to him about it. They said it's no big deal...There's nothing they can do.
Lightning GM Phil Esposito didn't think it was so great.
"Andrei's girlfriend was in the car crying. She was scared to death. That's just not right," Esposito said.
One wonders what LaCroix's loved ones thought as they witnessed the incident on the ice.
On Oct. 9, 1992, Eric Lindros made his home debut in Philadelphia against the team that he would also play his last game as a Flyer against, the New Jersey Devils.
He made his NHL debut in Pittsburgh three nights before. It was a lackluster affair all around, and although Lindros did score his first NHL goal that night, it was hardly highlight-reel worthy.
During his home debut, the Flyers battled back and forth with the up-and-coming Devils. The Flyers, themselves, were mired in the worst era of the franchise's history, and the team and it's millions of fans looked to Lindros to be their savior.
He did not disappoint on that Friday night in Oct. 1992.
With the score tied at four, Lindros poked the puck past Devils defenseman Scott Neidermayer at center ice, outraced both forward Stephane Richer and defenseman Scott Stevens into the Devils' zone, pulled a sweet move by cutting to his right across the shot, deked goalie Chris Terreri out of his shorts and buried the game-winner into the net as he dove over the prone goaltender.
A highlight-worthy goal if there ever was one and the portent of great things to come.
On Feb. 25, 1995 the Flyers visited the Montreal Canadiens. At the time, they were a disappointing 7-8-2, and it was looking like the team very possibly could be on the way to missing the playoffs for the sixth season in a row.
Two weeks prior to this night in Montreal, the Flyers and Canadiens made a blockbuster deal which netted the Flyers John LeClair, Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne in exchange for Mark Recchi. It was a trade that reversed the fortunes of the franchise and led to the creation of one of the most dominate lines in NHL history, the Legion of Doom.
The Flyers made a statement that night from the very beginning of the game when goaltender Ron Hextall left his net to body-check fore-checking former Flyer Recchi in the offensive right-wing corner.
LeClair scored a hat trick, and Eric Lindros got two assists. But, Lindros' physical play set the tone for the night and the season. The Flyers went on to win the game, 7-0. They proceeded to go on a tear over the next few weeks as they went 10-1-1 over the subsequent 12 games, eventually clinching home ice throughout the conference playoffs and reaching the conference finals.
Canadiens defenseman/goon Lyle Odelein didn't take too kindly to Lindros' physical dismantling of the Canadiens nor the Flyers' dominance on the scoreboard and decided to send a message of his own by running into Lindros and dropping the gloves.
The two heavyweights wrestled for some time, each throwing punches that didn't really connect until Lindros made Odelein question the wisdom of his decision to send a message with a short right jab that felled the Canadien tough guy.
The 1996-97 season for the Flyers was the high-water mark for the Eric Lindros era. Lindros missed the first few months of the season, but when he returned, he dominated the league, and the Flyers began to dominate the win column.
Lindros' first game that season wasn't until Nov. 26. At the time of his return, the Flyers were a very mediocre 12-11-1. After Lindros returned, the club's record was 33-13-12, helping the Flyers finish the season with 45 wins and 13 ties for 103 points.
Playing in just 52 games that season, Lindros scored 32 goals and recorded 47 assists for 79 points.
Lindros had his most dominating game on the score sheet on March 19, 1997 in Toronto against his boyhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. He tallied four goals and two assists, factoring in on every one of the Flyers' six goals that night as they defeated the Leafs, 6-3.
He was also a plus-5 for the night and his usual dominant, physical self as he and the team began to gear up for their Stanley Cup Finals run that coming spring.
From the moment they first met in the NHL, Scott Stevens and Eric Lindros were bitter rivals.
Stevens would get the last laugh with that devastating, potentially-career-ending head-shot he gave Lindros in May of 2000, but when they went up against each other mano a mano, eye to eye, Lindros was usually the victor.
In his rookie season, after multiple games filled with Stevens and Lindros taking runs at each other, dishing out crushing body-checks, bickering and pushing after the whistle, Lindros finally decided it was time to drop the gloves with the veteran defenseman.
It was just the second fight of Lindros' NHL career.
It was a beating Stevens obviously never forgot.
In the 1995-96 campaign, the Flyers were hoping to build upon the success they found with the conference finals run the previous season.
The regular season went according to plan, as the Flyers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the third best record in the NHL.
The Legion of Doom picked up where they left off in 1994-95 and became the league's most dominant line. Indeed, it was Lindros' best season statistically as he racked up 47 goals and 68 assists for his career best 115 points.
When they hit the playoffs, however, something unexpected happened. In the first round, they went up against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were making their first postseason appearance ever.
It was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Flyers. It turned out to be a gritty six-game series that would eventually take a lot out of the team.
The Lightning, thanks to two overtime victories, took a 2-1 lead in the series. The Lightning were getting unexpectedly good goaltending from veteran net-minder Darren Puppa, they had fast, pesky forwards, and most significantly, they had two defensemen, journey-veteran Michel Petit and big, hulking Russian Igor Ulanov. Nicknamed by the Tampa-St. Pete media as the Bruise Brothers, the tandem made life a living hell for the Flyers.
During the first four games, Ulanov and Petit took runs at the Flyers and took a lot of liberties especially with Lindros. It was a win-win for the pair. They could take shots at Lindros to throw him off of his game/injure him, or, should he retaliate, they would force the series' best player off of the ice for two, five or even ten minutes.
It was a strategy Petit and Ulanov stuck to...until early in Game 5.
Back at the Spectrum, Lindros first took a run at Ulanov and knocked the big defenseman's helmet off, which brought the crowd to its feet. Twenty-eight seconds later, he lined Petit up in the offensive zone and delivered one of the most crushing hits in Spectrum history. He shouldered Petit, who was slammed face first into the glass. A stick came down and crushed the defenseman's face.
Petit crumbled to the ice. That he got up at all was amazing. When he did, his nose has badly damaged, and blood covered his face. That hit seemed to take a bit out of Petit, who was no longer his chippy self.
The Flyers used the momentum caused by Lindros taking out his two biggest foes to win convincingly, 4-1.
In Tampa for Game 6, the Flyers carried the momentum over, destroying the Lightning, 6-1. But, that was child's play compared to what Lindros had in store for Ulanov.
Lindros and Ulanov had a history. It was Ulanov who took a run at Lindros and hit him into the boards from behind at the end of the 1993-94 season. The hit badly sprained Lindros' shoulder and ended his season, which also ended the Flyers' playoff hopes.
Now with a five-goal lead and the series safely in the team's pocket, Lindros exacted some revenge in this fight, mercilessly pounding the Russian's face with rights until, finally, Ulanov's teammate, Jason Weimer, had to come to his aid.
Ulanov's forehead was split and bloody. His eyes seemed distant.
The Flyers moved on. The Lightning went home.
The Flyers' road to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals was certainly an interesting route to take.
They faced the Pittsburgh Penguins featuring Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux, who was on his farewell tour of the league. The Flyers beat them in five.
After handling the scrappy Buffalo Sabres, also in five, they had the New York Rangers waiting for them. The Rangers had Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Adam Graves, Esa Tikanen, Ulf Samuelsson, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter. It would be the last time Hall of Famers Messier, Gretzky and Richter ever played in the NHL playoffs.
To say Eric Lindros dominated the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals is to put it far too mildly.
He had five goals and four assists for nine points in five games. He scored a hat trick at Madison Square Garden, with his third goal that night coming as a result of outhustling his boyhood hero, Mark Messier, to the puck to nail home the clinching goal.
In an intense Game 4, he scored the game-winning goal with 6.8 seconds left to send the series back to Philadelphia with the Flyers holding a 3-1 lead.
In Game 5, he recorded a goal and an assist.
For five games, he put himself on the line going up against heavyweight Jeff Buekeboom every night. The Rangers, like Petit (then a member of the 1997 Flyers) and Ulanov the season before, took runs at Lindros constantly. Their blatant mugging of the Flyers' captain in Game 2 in the Rangers' only win of the series was a borderline disgrace.
But, Lindros fought through it all.
It was one of the most dominant playoff performances in Flyers' history—not just on the score sheet, but through physicality, determination and heart.
It was Lindros' shining moment.
Unfortunately, it was all too brief.
In Eric Lindros' third year, the Flyers made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Lindros missed out on becoming the first Flyer ever to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer on a technicality to Jaromir Jagr, who had more goals. Lindros also missed the final two games that season due to an eye injury.
He matured into the dominant force he showed promise of becoming during his first two seasons.
He became only the second Flyer to ever win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
His incredibly gracious acceptance speech, during which he teared up while thanking the fans of Philadelphia, made a city fall in love with him.