He should be a freshman at some college somewhere in this September of 1991, feeling out his first days away from home on some campus, walking with a map in his hand and maybe a few virgin spiral notebooks under his arm. Where does Political Science 101 meet? Am I on the right street for the humanities building? Eighteen years old. There should be a name tag on his sports coat—HI! MY NAME IS ERIC LINDROS!—and he should be meeting the good brothers of Sigma Something-or-Other. There should be coeds to catch his eye and maybe beer kegs in the basement and loud music everywhere and at least a couple of serious all-night discussions in a dormitory room about how a benevolent god sometimes can allow bad things to happen to good people.
He finds himself instead listening to talk about couches. "Couches!" he says. "That was the big subject the other day. Where can you get a good couch? How much it costs. Whether it would fit into the decor of the room."
Or car seats for babies. "That was another one," he says. "About how hard it is to find a baby seat that matches the interior of the car. Guys were saying it's really hard to find a baby seat for a Porsche."
Or simply world news. "I've never been so informed in my life," he says. "All these guys watch is CNN, 24 hours a day."
He is in the company of grown men. That is his problem. That is his joy. Most of his old friends have gone off to college, and his new friends have families and Weedwackers and credit ratings. He is a star, the latest in the string of Canadian hockey phenoms who arrive every generation or so from the midst of the country's imagination as full-blown wonders, playing with Team Canada in its run for the Canada Cup.
He has skipped grades and years and social boundaries. His name is in the headlines. His face is on magazine covers. He has outraged the French-speaking corner of Canada, refusing to consider a contract with the Quebec Nordiques. He has astounded all of Canada with his considerable talent. That is his problem. That is his joy. He is too good to be 18.
He has more than held his own against those grown men, getting three goals and two assists in eight games as Canada's star-studded, otherwise all-NHL contingent won this year's Cup. A 4-2 win on Monday night gave the Canadians a sweep of the best-of-three finals against a strong U.S. team. Throughout the six-nation tournament, Lindros established himself as a force on the power play and terrorized just about anyone who came close to him.
Fresh from the cramped obscurity of Oshawa, Ont., where he played junior hockey, he is a blend of size and skill and presence. He is 6'5", 225 pounds. He is playing with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and other familiar NHL names, playing against the Americans and the Soviets and the Czechs and the Swedes and the Finns. There has been no intermediate stop on an NHL roster. He has fast-forwarded himself into his own future.
If there were any doubts about his abilities when he appeared at Team Canada's Maple Leaf Gardens training camp six weeks ago—none of the coaches had seen him play, and only a few of the players had been on the ice with him—there are no doubts now. He has proved himself to be a different sort of threat, a power player in what is largely a finesse game. The best comparisons seem to come from other sports. He is Charles Barkley on skates. He is a tight end, running patterns through undersized defensive backs, a fine touch of malevolence in his stride. He has fit in. More than fit in.