(Source: NBCSports.com) – No. 88 has always hung from the rafters in the minds of Philadelphia Flyers fans. The organization seemed to revere it as well. No one but Eric Lindros has ever worn the number. And on Thursday night in the City of Brotherly Love, those fans could finally see it with their own eyes. The Big E’s famous No. 88 in Flyers orange and black was retired at Wells Fargo Center.
If you were a hockey playing kid growing up in Vermont in the 90’s your only native NHL idol was John LeClair. The St. Albans bred stud was all we had. The only Vermonter to get to the NHL.
Luckily for us, LeClair was great. A University of Vermont star, a Stanley Cup winner (who scored two overtime goals for the Habs in that ’93 Final against Gretzky’s L.A. Kings), a 50-goal season regular with the Flyers, and a member of the Legion of Doom line with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg.
LeClair was the reason I wore #17 in my hockey youth. It was his number when he was with the Habs. LeClair was even invited to my best friend Timmy’s birthday party back then. We were just 11-years-old or so. And sure enough LeClair showed up. The NHLer played street hockey in the unfinished basement with all the kids. Ironically, that same birthday boy in Timmy would grow up to be on the short list of native Vermonters to go on to play hockey at UVM, just like LeClair did.
And through our Vermont pride, whether you were a loyal Habs or Bruins fan, a good chunk of people soon developed a new mistress on the side in the Philadelphia Flyers after LeClair was traded there from Montreal.
Yes, years later University of Vermont Catamounts Martin St. Louis and Timmy Thomas made all Vermonters proud with their NCAA runs. I even moved on to wearing #8 in high school because St. Louis was #8 at UVM at the same time. But for all their successes St. Louis and Thomas weren’t native Vermonters like LeClair.
LeClair was our original hockey god.
And with that came my love for Eric Lindros. By association to LeClair, Lindros grew to become my favorite player at the time. And it was a good choice. He was like a Cam Neely reboot. Huge, scary, powerful, silky mitts, a scoring touch, a freak. He was hockey’s version of Rob Gronkowski at the time in terms of matchup. Like Gronk, it seemed you couldn’t cover him. Like Gronk, he was a hybrid style of player you hadn’t seen in the game before. Even the biggest and strongest of defenseman, like a Derian Hatcher, seemed small next to him. And of course LeClair, our boy, was flanking the left wing in his line. He was equally the ox Lindros was.
Just like Gretzky with 99, Bourque with 77, Lemieux with 66, who all defined their higher digit jersey numbers, Lindros defined 88. To be honest, I had never really seen an 88 before Lindros. Or if I had I at least never paid attention or remembered it. However, like his game and stature, unique, bold and big, 88 fit Lindros perfectly.
Today, even when I see David Pastrnak, Patrick Kane, or Brent Burns in their 88’s, I still think of Lindros first. It’s that ingrained in me. He made that number a go-to for stars. It’s become reserved for big time players.
Lindros also sent me down a Bauer hole, like an addict, I still can’t get out of. The old black Bauer Supreme 3030 Lindros curve wooden sticks, the Bauer 7500 helmet, and those gloves… Oh those gloves…
I bought it all. The entire get up.
I still wear the gloves today.
So while I’m a Bruin guy at heart, there’s a small piece of me that’ll always love that 90’s era, Lindros led, Flyers. And I’m happy for Lindros for getting his 88 retired. Even through all the drama, his father, the concussions, it’s still much deserved. It’s a number and a player that a 13-year-old me thought was the coolest thing going at the time. Right up there with Pavel Bure.
And that may not have been the case for me today if it weren’t for the light that shined on Philly thanks to our one and only John LeClair. Our one man wolf pack. Our NHLer.
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