Eric the great
Canada's Lindros rebounds with strong performancePosted: Friday February 22, 2002 6:24 PM
Updated: Friday February 22, 2002 7:03 PM
Of course, Lindros had a great view of the ice in the quarterfinal win over Finland -- from the recesses of the Canadian bench. The captain of the 1998 team was benched ignominiously for some of the second and all of the third periods, strictly on merit. Lindros had been an Olympic tourist, watching the game go by (although he didn't have to pay outrageous sums for that trendy Team Canada stuff Roots makes). Canada was going into the gold-medal game with him or without him, but it was comforting that he finally tapped into a corner of the impossibly deep pool of his talent before Sunday's final.
"It's like the theory of the big red oak," Lindros said. "It's why you keep chopping at it. Sooner or later it's going to drop. I just think I put it through the driveway and onto the car."
Like Monty Python's singing Canadians, Lindros is a lumberjack and he was OK. Coach Pat Quinn made a tacit statement by using Lindros' line to start each of the three periods, as public a vote of confidence as any coach ever dared make. Lindros, Ryan Smyth and Owen Nolan had a strong first shift, which led to a strong first period featuring a Lindros tape-to-tape pass to Smyth that caught even goalie Martin Brodeur, who could see the entire ice, by surprise.
Now, Belarus is more of a controlled experiment than a typical semifinal game -- after shocking the Rodins of Sweden, Belarus had no hope against the Godzillas of Canada -- but it still revealed a certain resourcefulness. Lindros could have looked back and brooded about the benching, or he could have looked forward to playing for gold. His head was definitely on straight.
"He played a real grinding game," Team Canada center Steve Yzerman said. "He was great at finishing his checks, winning the battles for loose pucks, taking care of the little things that led to more offensive opportunities." Lindros was duly rewarded, even getting power-play time in the third period, taking a cute goal-line feed from Smyth and burying a puck from the slot for the sixth Canadian goal.
The slot is where Lindros used to spend most of his time, but Eric doesn't live there any more. Given his concussion history, Lindros has had to find other ways to use his 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. No matter how effective a banging style might be, it has become a neurologically low-percentage play. Lindros had a couple of hits against Belarus but found creases and made passes, a style that will need further evolution if Lindros is ever to regain his place among the NHL's best players. "There's a fine line to the way Eric has to play now," said Theo Fleury, his New York Rangers and Team Canada teammate. "Sometimes we expect him to play the way he used to, but he can't do that anymore."
Lindros can certainly do enough. He is not as complete a center as Yzerman or Joe Sakic -- Lindros never has been -- but his contribution against Belarus couldn't be dismissed. There was no expiration date on that milk carton.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Farber is in Utah covering the Olympic hockey competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.