THE FIRST night old-time hockey man Bill Dineen made the
pilgrimage to see Eric Lindros, the 15-year-old was playing for St.
Michael's, a Junior B team in Toronto -- but he was already a magnet
for anyone who wanted to see tomorrow's hockey genius today. ''He was
awesome at that level,'' says Dineen. ''It's just too bad I drove 40
miles to watch him, because he got thrown out the first shift for
fighting.'' Dineen's diligence was ultimately rewarded, though; he
would become Lindros's first NHL coach, with the Philadelphia Flyers.
And Lindros has given him plenty to watch ever since.
In a league that seems destined to be hijacked by the flash and
panache of Europeans like Pavel Bure of the Vancouver Canucks and
Teemu Selanne of the Winnipeg Jets, Lindros, a center for the Flyers,
is the last fortress of the old North American style. (At 6 ft. 4
in., 229 pounds, the 22-year-old Lindros is a fortress.) He excels at
both offense and defense. He plays rough. He often seeks out contact,
and the small NHL rinks barely seem able to contain him. He creates
his own space -- a man skating in his own personal bell jar.
As Wayne Gretzky was dubbed the Great One, so Lindros has been
called the Next One. But for Lindros the more apt moniker may be the
First One. There has never before been a player with his combination
of size, strength, power, speed and playmaking ability. ''This is the
total package,'' says Dineen, now a scout for the Flyers. ''There's
no question Eric can become the most dominant player in the game.
Nobody else can turn a game around by himself in so many ways:
toughness, skill, finesse, running over people. He has the ability to
get a team to the Stanley Cup.''
Lindros is a proud, stubborn, independent thinker who has
distinguished himself on the other side of the boards too. During
this season's lockout, he was a really big man on campus at the
University of Western Ontario, in London, where he took an economics
course. ''I guess I'm kind of learning economics in theory and in
reality,'' he said at the time.
Lindros's independence is unique in the go-along NHL. With the
backing of his parents, Bonnie and Carl, he has challenged the system
-- and won. Twice. As a junior, he refused to play for Sault Sainte
Marie of the Ontario Hockey League, forcing the team to trade him to
Oshawa, which was closer to his Toronto home. He also balked after
the Quebec Nordiques made him the first player chosen in the 1991
draft. He skipped an NHL season rather than sign with the lowly
Nordiques and played with the Canadian national team instead, scoring
five goals in eight games in the Olympics. Quebec traded him before
the 1992 draft, and apparently Nordique president Marcel Aubut is not
a man who takes yes for an answer: Aubut worked out deals for Lindros
with both Philadelphia and the New York Rangers. The mess was dumped
into the lap of an arbitrator, who ruled in favor of the Flyers. The
trade cost Philadelphia six players, two No. 1 draft choices and $15
million. No one thought the Flyers had been taken.
And we have yet to see the best of Lindros. In addition to missing
a full season while holding out, he has had two knee injuries and a
shoulder sprain, which have limited his time on the ice. His hockey
IQ is indisputably of Mensa quality; he is simply waiting to wipe
that Incomplete off his record. Though he entered the 1995 season
having played in just 126 games, he already had 85 career goals and
had averaged almost 1.4 points per game. There is little doubt that
if he stays healthy, he will dominate the NHL for years to come.
In 1994, rightwinger Brett Lindros was the first-round draft
choice of the New York Islanders. Of course, it isn't easy being
Eric's kid brother. ''Players on the other teams will come up and
tell me I'm not as good as Eric,'' says Brett. ''I tell them,
'Neither are you.' ''
This is an article from the Feb. 9, 1995 issue