From the time his parents laced on his first skates, Eric Lindros was destined to become this era's Greatest Hockey Player on Earth. All the 2½-hour trips to play 45 minutes of hockey, all the backyard skating drills between pylons swiped from construction sites, almost everything Lindros had ever done had been directed toward the moment they would call his name. He had pushed the envelope to get to the top, and in July, at the NHL awards ceremony in Toronto, that envelope was opened.
Lindros's life had been scripted, but now that he had reached the big scene, he almost blew his lines. He accepted the NHL MVP trophy from rocker Neil Young and then spent the next two minutes looking as dazed as a prerehab David Crosby. These were odd and oddly endearing moments for the league's best player, his veneer of poise dissolving into a puddle of goo before the television cameras. "I was surprised by what happened," says Eric's younger brother, Brett, a right wing for the New York Islanders. "He's so guarded, especially with the media. I've seen interviews with him, and he's got this monotone. It's like talking to the floor."
Eric meandered from thank-you to thank-you. He got a little choked up when he mentioned his family, but he averted meltdown until he thanked the Philadelphia fans who had backed the Flyers through the barren early 1990s. His eyes welled, his voice trembled, his lower lip quivered like a baby's, and he stifled a sob.
"I didn't cry," Lindros says, his eyes dancing. "I was about to sneeze. I had this itch...."
"This is a man who has seen his name in print regularly since the age of 12," says Flyer coach Terry Murray. "He's been tabbed as the next Great One. Now he was being recognized by the hockey world as its best player, and there was a tremendous amount of relief. That's what I think those tears were—relief."
Read it and weep, Lindros haters: He says he wants to play another 15 years. As size becomes hockey's premium asset, as the NHL grows up and up, Lindros, 22, has established himself as the best of the big men. He is, as hockey men like to say, the Package: a 6'4", 229-pound parcel of steel with a mean streak who can shoot, pass, hit and skate.
Testimonials fly like bodychecks.
Flyer left wing Shawn Antoski: "There's no one else in the league who's capable of scoring 50 goals and using you as a speed bump."
Montreal Canadien defenseman Lyle Odelein: "He's the best player in the world. The guy plays for keeps. When he hits guys, he likes to hurt them. He's great now. I wonder what he'll be like when he raises his game to another level."
Flyer goalie Ron Hextall: "It's almost unfair. There's no one who can physically challenge him. He's so big and strong and skilled, he can hurt you in so many ways. Punch him in the head, he might skate away and score on the power play. Or punch him in the head, he might turn around and knock you out. For the next 10 or 12 years he's the guy who's going to get you hooked on hockey."