Lindros, LeClair join forces for a cause

Eric Lindros and John LeClair are as much a study in contrasts as they are a study in similarities — but both men do not betray their roots and are still prime examples of how playing the game of hockey has molded their personalities.

Lindros is 38. LeClair is 42. One is Canadian, one is American. One has returned to his native country and the other is still a resident of the area.

Lindros took great pains to show how pained he still is that his Canada squad lost to the USA in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey on Canadian soil, and LeClair didn’t even break a sweat in saying that victory — in Montreal on an unforgettable September Saturday evening — was one of his all-time favorite hockey memories.

But both Lindros and LeClair are bonded simply by being members of the Orange and Black fraternity — the former from 1992 to 2000, and the latter from 1995 to 2004. And both men are the kind who speak softly while carrying an awful lot of weight behind those words and their actions.

Most importantly, both heralded former Philadelphia Flyers were on hand Thursday afternoon at Morton’s in Center City, the guests of honor at a fund-raiser for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The plan to raise money for CHOP is Lindros’. It was a condition of his for returning to the organization as part of the three-day celebration which includes the Winter Classic on January 2.

Naturally, when Big E is mentioned, dreams of the reunited Legion of Doom line are not far behind. Naturally, the next step in the process was to get Lindros’ linemate LeClair involved.

Lindros has reveled in his post-playing career, first taking the position of Ombudsman for the NHL Players’ Association, and now trying his hand at combining technology with education. He revealed he still plays roughly 2-3 times per week in pick-up leagues and also let slip that he recently got some buddies together and played at an outdoor rink close to Lake Ontario under the moonlight.

LeClair, on the other hand, has kept a relatively low profile. He is still a partner in a local trucking company (LTL) with former teammate and current Flyers radio color commentator Chris Therien. He has two sons who participate in youth hockey programs.

Still, the Vermont native clearly showed — by his relaxed physique — that he’s been off the grid for a while. Teased by Lindros at the dais on his level of activity (or inactivity as it were), he quietly but pointedly answered “I’m retired and liking it.”

It was obvious during the two-plus hours they appeared in front of a packed house of almost 200 people, that both men are still humble, self-effacing and appear grateful to be given the opportunity in front of them. Even though it’s part and parcel of the long process of working up thousands of dollars to donate to such an entity as CHOP, they both warmed to the task of shaking endless hands and hearing endless fan stories and taking endless pictures and signing endless amounts of memorabilia.

It’s not an easy thing for most people, but Lindros and LeClair both spent prime times in their lives in the spotlight, so this was just a natural extension, albeit on a more personal basis.

Ed note: Sorry folks. Got sidetracked with all the Pronger news and the Flyers game last night. Here’s part two, a little later than intended…

Speaking of weight…This wasn’t just a two-man show. Also among the crowd were Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, team president Peter Luukko, long-time public address announcer Lou Nolan, long-time franchise employee Joe Kadlec, several prominent members of the Philadelphia business community, reps from Bauer equipment, fans and, of course, representatives from CHOP.

On the auction block were things like a framed lithograph of Lindros, LeClair and Rod Brind’Amour, a photo of the Legion in their prime, a game-worn Lindros jersey, and a game-used LeClair stick. Your reporter didn’t have time to see all the items on display, since he was a bit conspicuous in semi-business attire and was given the boot from the room just before the luncheon began.

But the brass ring was a set of two tickets each to the Alumni Game (featuring at least two-thirds of the Legion), the Winter Classic and the January 6 outdoor game between the Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears.

One important thing everyone’s gotta understand: when one is involved in charity ventures like this, with so much on the line, there’s no going small. You step into Morton’s and you’re playing with the big dogs. Might as well run with them. There were fans with nicely-pressed shirts and ties with the latest Orange home uniforms ready to bust out quadruple-digit bids for the tix. Bidding started at $1,000 and headed up. Sharply. No shortage of hands until the winning bid crossed well above the $3G line. No joke. I saw it with my own eyes and raised quite a few times myself.

The afternoon was punctuated by a Q&A session, hosted by Joe DeCamara of 97.5 The Fanatic. Eventually the topic came around to the wave of serious injuries that have swept through the NHL. It gave both men pause. In an era of greater medical advancements, precautions and fitness, it’s not a stretch to think Lindros can still be playing now. He eventually called it quits at age 34.

Same goes for LeClair. I mean, if Mark Recchi could still crank it up at 43, Johnny Vermont might have been able to find a spot on a roster if the desire was still there.

Both guys spoke of how much tougher it was in their day, how the area in front of the net was a minefield and you had to learn to work through it, and that the rules now which prohibit those battles probably hinder players’ development. They also made it a point to say that the game is too fast, there’s no fear anymore because the size advantage they enjoyed as the Legion has disappeared.

Regarding concussions, Lindros’ answers drew more measured and muted responses. Clearly, having the ability to play the game he loved since he was a child taken away without a proper finish still resonates within. He said he’d have to think twice about stepping onto the ice, because it seemed (alluding to Sidney Crosby’s collision with teammate Chris Kunitz) that players didn’t even have to get hit up high to suffer one anymore. He floated out the idea that the red line once again be allowed in order to slow down play through the middle of the ice and prevent high-speed contact.

And a most conspicuous question went unasked and therefore unanswered, clearly due to the thrust of the event: nobody dared inquire if learning to keep his head up would have made the most difference.

I’d imagine that on a date very soon, and close to the turn of the new year, Lindros and LeClair will make their presence known at the West Philadelphia medical facility, oversized check in hand. It will be the best — though not the most lasting — thing either man has done for this city. Echoes of the final line from Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” come to mind.

In a flash, the 38-year-old Canadian and the 42-year-old American will return to their respective lives and so will we. But their mark will be made in a far more important realm than wins and losses. If only the hockey ethos ingrained within both could have permitted something far greater in public scope, because they are certainly deserving of the chance to take it to the masses and not just to a select few die-hards who could pay a small fortune for a great cause.

Still, if this is the start of what we got from a brief reunion, I’ll gladly take it.