September 27, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Eric Lindros

Few players were more dedicated to Team Canada than Eric Lindros.

The Big E burst onto the amateur scene as a 16 year old when he was already making headlines as the next great hockey sensation. He was too good to play in the junior leagues, and was already showing an interest in the Canadian national team. In fact he played 5 games, and scoring 2 goals, with the “Nats” while still playing junior B hockey.

At age 17 and 18 Lindros would eventually join the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, but it was at the world junior championships where the whole nation could see their rising star on a grand stage for the first time. He would lead the Canadian national junior team to back-to-back gold medal championships in 1990 and 1991, and an unsuccessful tournament in 1992. In 21 career contests at the famous junior championships, Lindros would leave few doubters with 12 goals, 37 points and a Top Forward (1991) designation.

Canada Cup '91

Before turning pro, Lindros became the only Canadian player to play in a top level international tournament without having any National Hockey League experience. The 18 year old phenom was invited to the 1991 Canada Cup training camp and not only made the team, but impressed with his physical dominance. The gigantic teenager was more than holding his own with grizzled NHL warriors, and chipped in with 3 goals and 5 points to help Team Canada capture the final Canada Cup championship.

In a perfect world Lindros would have joined the National Hockey League right after that Canada Cup tournament, but he would not see eye to eye with the Quebec Nordiques who owned his playing rights. He opted to sit out the year and wait for a trade. In the meantime he would return to the Canadian national team with his eyes set on participating in the 1992 Olympic games.

'92 Olympics

Lindros would be joined by the likes of Sean Burke, Joe Juneau, and Jason Woolley, and the team came excruciatingly close to capturing the first Canadian Olympic gold since 1952. However Canada would have to settle for silver, thanks to a 3-1 defeat to the Russians, then known as the Unified Team, in the final game.

Lindros’ NHL situation came to a settlement in the summer of 1992, and the long awaited phenom turned professional in 1993 with the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite an impressive rookie season that was cut short by injuries, the Flyers never made the playoffs that season. Team Canada came calling for Lindros’ services and again he eagerly returned to help Canada in the World Championships. Lindros was named as the tournament’s best forward thanks to his 11 goals and 17 points in just 8 games, although it was not enough to earn Canada a medal.

Injuries would plague Lindros throughout his National Hockey League career, but that would not prevent him from helping Team Canada when he had the opportunity. He represented Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, which was essentially the Canada Cup with a new name and trophy.

Two More Olympics

Later when the Olympics were opened up to NHLers, he readily accepted invites back to the famous tourney. He was captain of the hard luck 1998 Canadian Olympic team that was unfortunate not to get by the eventual gold medal champion Czech Republic.

Lindros managed to recuperate from serious concussion injuries in time to return to the Olympics in 2002. This time Lindros played a quiet and under-appreciated role, as Canada would capture their first gold medal in exactly fifty years.

Because of his controversial stands against the NHL establishment and serious injuries that have prevented him from becoming as dominant a player as he likely would have become, Lindros has had his fare share of critics over the years. One area where no one can criticize him for is his undying devotion and contributions to Team Canada.

No comments: