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The reason Eric left Toronto for Farmington is that he could play only junior hockey in Canada for Sault Ste. Marie, an outpost of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) that made him the first pick in the midget draft (for 15- and 16-year-olds) last May. The OHL is one level above the North American Junior Hockey League, but Eric's parents felt that his education would suffer if he lost school days riding buses to and from Sault Ste. Marie's games, so they arranged for his move to Compuware and Farmington High, from which he will graduate on Jan. 15.
Eric might have accepted a scholarship at the University of Michigan next semester if the OHL, hoping to woo him home, had not passed the so-called Lindros Rule last month that allows teams to trade their first-round draft choices between Jan. 1 and Jan. 10 each year. Sault Ste. Marie is widely expected to send its rights to Eric to a club closer to Toronto, and Eric has decided that the 66-game schedule of the OHL will be better for his development than playing half that many games at Michigan. He does plan to take college business classes while playing in Ontario.
In Farmington, Eric boards at the home of Judy and Frank Vellucci, whose son Mark is a member of Compuware's B team. Carl Lindros, an accountant with Peat Marwick Thorne, and Bonnie, a registered nurse, found the Velluccis through Rick Curran, an NHL player agent who has been informally advising the Lindroses. Carl and Bonnie, who have stressed independence and achievement for their children (they have a second son, Brett, 14, and a daughter, Robin, 10), have also sought advice from such famous fathers as Doug Orr, Bobby's dad, on how best to develop Eric's talents while still making hockey fun.
When the Lindroses moved to Toronto six years ago following Carl's job transfer from London, Ont., among the sacrifices they made for Eric and Brett, also an aspiring player, was buying a house with enough property in the backyard to accommodate a nearly full-size hockey rink. It so happened that the home they liked had a swimming pool, so they filled in the pool and built the rink. "It has no boards, but there is a killer hedge," says Eric. "On the other side is a rosebush—with thorns."
There is a perception in some quarters that the Lindroses have unduly pushed their prodigy. They insist this is not true. Carl has discussed burnout with Olympic swim coaches and has never allowed Eric to play organized hockey in the summer. And the Lindroses insist, as does Eric, that he answer only to his own dreams. "He pushes us—we don't push him," says Carl, who learned about motivation as a Chicago Blackhawk farmhand before turning to football at Western Ontario University.
"Had he insisted on going to Sault Ste. Marie, he could have," Carl adds. "We have tried to keep things in perspective, but Eric is very confident, and that's part of his perspective. You have to understand how dedicated he is. He works for hours on his backhand and does it all on his own.
"He has the chance of a lifetime. Would any parent's advice be not to go for it? The worst-case scenario isn't that he doesn't make it in hockey. I can think of far worse scenarios than that. As long as he's done his best, he hasn't let anybody down."
When he's asked if he could live with becoming a good NHL player but not a superstar, Eric says, "I don't even want to think about that." The reply makes one wonder how well he'll be able to cope with the inevitable disappointments of life. But Carl says, "He's had setbacks. He's hit growth spurts and struggled at times. There's been a lot of pressure on him for several years now. Nothing anyone says or does is going to faze him."
Eric knows that the New Jersey Devils have made a deal with those perennial cellar-dwellers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, which could well land them the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft. But he has only a broad preference as to where he would like to play, favoring "an American team...because of the Canadian taxes," which are higher than those in the U.S. Spoken like a young man growing up quickly—or at least like the son of a successful accountant.
Every so often Eric does talk—and act—like a 16-year-old. For one thing, he says, "I drive like an idiot." And his room at the Velluccis', with the mattress on the floor ("I like a hard bed," he says) and clothes strewn about, is a common enough adolescent setting.