SUN Hockey Pool

Lindros leaves as a man

JOE WARMINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Eric Lindros helped build a couple of fabulous championship hockey teams.

Too bad he wasn't on one of them.

Thanks to trading Lindros, the Soo Greyhounds have title rings, as do the players on the Colorado Avalanche -- which were the Quebec Nordiques prior and another organization Lindros refused to play for.

Meanwhile, Lindros does not have a Stanley Cup ring and may not earn a Hall of Fame one either. But after what he did yesterday, maybe none of that matters anymore.

Perhaps it's time to forgive the greedy and selfish decisions of a teenager and his over-protective hockey parents. It's true the kid started off his career as a prima donna. However, he ended it yesterday with one of the most generous gestures anybody in sports has ever seen -- donating $5 million to a London, Ont., hospital.

"I certainly never heard of anybody else every doing it," said legendary OHL executive Sherry Bassin, the man who traded Lindros twice. "It is remarkable and has set a new precedent in retirement ceremonies."

It was quite a thing and a nice way to shut up your critics -- and maybe even change your entire image with the public.

For those who didn't hear, the 33-year-old Lindros not only announced his retirement from the NHL yesterday, he also donated this huge sum to the London Health Services Foundation and the Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic -- a place that helped treat his eight concussions.

"I believe it's because of this care that my career lasted as long as it did," Lindros said.

Turns out his first move out of hockey was all class, and what Lindros didn't seem to get as a kid, he has more than made up for as a adult.

And he got this columnist good since I was set to really criticize him for a wasted opportunity of an NHL career and particularly for not coming to the wonderful city of Sault Ste. Marie.

Sure he scored 372 goals and had 493 assists for 865 points in 760 games, but I always called The Big E "The Big Exaggeration."

The Next One was a player with all of the tools and opportunity who wanted to run the show himself -- hurting a lot of feelings in the process. As a cub reporter at the Sault Star in 1990, I'll never forget his snub of the great northern city.

I know I always appreciated my four years in the Soo and would not have traded them for anything.

The thing about the Soo is they are not just with you when you are on top.

In the bad times you'll be getting calls from your Soo friends. They have a saying, "Once from the Soo, always from the Soo."

But there is another one that is more unofficial: "You screw the Soo and you will have long flu."

Lindros found that out first hand. "There is no question this city will never forgive him for the snubbing," longtime Sault Star sports editor and columnist Bill Montague said. "This terrific city was good enough for Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Adam Foote, Joe Thornton, Jeff Carter, Ray Emery and so many others."

But on the other hand, Lindros not wanting to go there was a blessing in disguise. Enter Bassin, who at the time was the Greyhounds GM and turned a trade with the Oshawa Generals for star players Mike Lenarduzzi, Mike DeCoff, Jason Denomme and draft picks that ended up being Joe Busillo and Drew Bannister.

"It was one of the great trades in hockey history," said Montague. "It transferred a struggling organization into the envy of the Canadian Hockey League who played in three straight Memorial Cups. Thank you, Eric."

And one of the best "just desserts" moments came in the 1991 playoffs when Lindros and his Oshawa Generals played the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL final -- only to have the Soo beat his team out in a hugely emotional series with a lot of pride on the line.

When Lindros came to the Soo, fans were throwing soothers on the ice and carrying diapers.

"They did give it to him, for sure," said Montague. "But he had it coming."

MEMORIAL CUP

Bassin, now with the OHL's Erie Otters, says that in his more than 30 years in hockey, winning that series was one of his greatest moments -- telling since he has had teams go to seven Memorial Cups, won two World Junior Championships and helped mentor more than 100 players to the NHL.

"It was just such an emotional thing for the community of the Soo," he said. "It was sweet justice."

In the years since, he said he often thought back on that and wondered what might have been had Lindros come to the Soo. He feels Lindros would have been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame if he had.

"I know one thing for sure, if he had been there in that era he would have had an experience of a lifetime," said Bassin. "He missed out on that sense of identity. That sense of community. I know every time I go there they treat me so well. They don't forget you there."

But Bassin says Lindros' donation clearly will change everything about how he is remembered.

He could have given a lot less and still got the headlines.

"He's helping people with that money. We always believed he was a special player and I guess he turned out to be a special person."

So much for a column trashing No. 88. Things are so crazy with this story maybe the next thing is he will surprise us by announcing a charity hockey game in the Soo?

If he does that, not only will all be forgiven but he'll have some northern lobbyists pushing for him to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame too.


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