About six hours before his iconic No. 88 was raised to the rafters in front of an ear-splitting sellout crowd Thursday, Eric Lindros grabbed the tiny hands of his 3-year-old son, Carl, and they skated around the Wells Fargo Center ice.
The Flyers’ arena, which had No. 88 T-shirts on the seats for the fans who would arrive later, was empty, but the moment will be forever etched in the elder Lindros’ mind.
Father and son. In the House That Eric Built. The place where he revitalized the franchise and laid the foundation for his Hall of Fame career.
“We went out for 15, 20 minutes after the Leafs got off the ice,” Lindros said of his morning skate with his young son. “You just never know when you’re going to have a chance to do something like that with your kid. Carl’s at an age now where he’s starting to grasp hockey and understands what’s going on.”
Considering the circumstances, Lindros said he’ll “never have a chance like that ever again. That moment is pure.”
After the skate, Lindros, 44, said his son “came home – and he normally doesn’t nap – and he slept the entire afternoon with his Flyers jersey on. That’s the coolest part. He’s fired up” about the Flyers and the ceremony.
Skating with his son on such a momentous day and night. Being reunited with teammates and longtime club officials. Receiving a slew of standing ovations during the emotional ceremony before the Flyers played the Maple Leafs.
“It’s unbelievable. … You feel lucky,” said Lindros, choking up in a news conference before the ceremony. “This is one of those days you take [and cherish] for the rest of your life.”
Lindros combined speed, talent, and size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and was the ultimate power forward. Despite having his career interrupted by multiple concussions, he had 659 points, including 290 goals, in 486 games with the Flyers. He averaged a franchise record 1.36 points per game during his eight seasons in Philadelphia.
“To say Eric was a game-changer, doesn’t do it justice,” Paul Holmgren, the Flyers’ club president, said in a heartfelt speech during the on-ice ceremony.
Holmgren later said to Lindros: “You are back where you belong … and this time, it’s forever.”
Lindros’ number went up to the rafters and, ironically, was hung next to Bobby Clarke’s No. 16. Clarke, the Flyers great who led the team to a pair of Stanley Cup titles as a player, was the general manager when he and Lindros had a very public spat that centered on the way the team handled the big center’s medical issues.
Lindros was asked whether, when he was dealt to the New York Rangers in 2001, he ever imagined his number would be retired by the Flyers.
“No. You?” he asked a reporter, drawing laughs. “Yeah, what happened was difficult and frustrating.”
With the help of Holmgren, who was then the team’s GM, Lindros and Clarke patched up their frosty relationship before the Winter Classic alumni game at Citizens Bank Park in 2011. Clarke attended Thursday’s ceremonies.
Lindros saluted Clarke for the moves he made — especially the 1995 trade that brought John LeClair and Eric Desjardins to the Flyers — and said he appreciated that the influential Clarke went to bat for him to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It was special,” he said.
“We disagreed on some things,” he said about their old feud. “But when it came down to hockey and if winning is it, I can’t question Bob and his desire” to try to build a champion.
Besides Clarke and Lindros, Bernie Parent (No. 1), Mark Howe (2), Barry Ashbee (4), and Bill Barber (7) have had their numbers retired.
“I woke up this morning with a text from Mark Howe,” Lindros said. “You couldn’t start the day any better.”
Lindros later said his teammates “pushed me to be better” and were a major reason for his success.
During his speech, Lindros thanked the fans and his family and said LeClair deserved to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. … Lindros’ family and his Legion of Doom teammates, LeClair and Mikael Renberg, attended the ceremony…Scrappy winger Tyrell Goulbourne returned to the Flyers’ lineup and Taylor Leier was a healthy scratch. … Goalie Michal Neuvirth made a rare start. Brian Elliott had started 18 of the previous 19 games.