LeClair and Lindros have a grand working relationship, understanding what kind of passes the other can and can't make, and who will go to the corner and who will head for the net in a given situation. They may not finish each other's sentences, but they can finish each other's passes, as LeClair did from his knees last month and as Lindros did late in Game 4 of the 1997 semifinals, after New York Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom nicked LeClair's face in four places with a high stick. LeClair missed just 30 seconds of action—trainer John Worley applied Vaseline and pressure to the streaming cut above LeClair's left eye—returning to create the winning goal with a blind, backhand pass through the crease to Lindros at the left face-off circle with 6.8 seconds left. "People made a big deal out of my coming back, but the only cut that was bleeding was over the eye, and that was mostly because of the sweat," LeClair says. "It looked a lot worse than it was."
When he left the University of Vermont to join the Canadiens in March 1991, LeClair was already a big, strong kid, but he skated like Bambi on the pond with Thumper for the first time. His balance was so poor that he would often cruise into a corner with his left leg pointing north and his right leg heading south, and down he would go. He set off a Rube Goldberg reaction at practice during Montreal's 1993 Stanley Cup run by stumbling and knocking down a teammate, who in turn slid and wiped out coach Jacques Demers. Too bad. Back then Demers was about the only person standing up for LeClair. Other than occasionally lamenting his shortcomings, LeClair was about as quotable as those fictional Vermonters, Darryl and his other brother Darryl. So analysis fell to the voluble Demers, who proclaimed LeClair the next Kevin Stevens, then a two-time 50-goal scorer and the NHL's top power winger. That Jacques, what a kidder. Montreal writers would smirk and jot down the name Connie Stevens.
Still, LeClair had his moments as a Canadien. He established squatter's rights outside the crease and scored overtime winners against the Los Angeles Kings in Games 3 and 4 of the 1993 Cup finals. He was delighted to contribute but unimpressed with his play. "It's not as if I dominated the games and deserved to score," LeClair says. "Did you see those goals? The first went off their guy [ defenseman Darryl Sydor] into the net, and the other I took three swipes at."
"All I know," says Demers, now a Montreal scout, "is that I have a Stanley Cup ring I owe to John LeClair."
The Cup, as tradition dictates, journeyed that summer to LeClair's hometown, which is 70 miles from Montreal. In a state that has produced twice as many presidents (Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge) as NHL players ( LeClair), this was a huge event. The newspaper reports said that 10,000 people, including Senator Patrick Leahy, passed through the St. Albans rink to see the Cup, though LeClair suspects the figure was inflated considering that only 12,000 live in the town. St. Albans, primarily a farming community, is at 45 degrees latitude, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. This is but one of its several claims to fame. Not only was St. Albans a stop on the Underground Railroad, but it also was the site of the Civil War's northernmost skirmish. LeClair invariably fails to point out such fascinating facts to his guests. Shjon Podein, his road roommate with the Flyers, says, "The first time I was up there for his golf tournament"—the John LeClair Foundation has raised $500,000 for Vermont children's charities since 1993—"we're going through town, and Johnny's pointing out all the sights: 'There's Bill's shop. There's Tony and Wendell. There's Frank's workout place, that's where you'll be going later.' He's the big fish who's come from the small pond, the small-town kid who's made good. Everybody knows him, and he knows everybody."
LeClair really does seem to know everybody, though he has never been introduced to Ben or Jerry. If those ice-cream �migr�s from Brooklyn really wanted to honor their adopted state, they would come up with a flavor named for LeClair. Vanilla is taken, so we humbly suggest LeClair Eclair, which would be a little bit of everything—except the fluff.