PHILADELPHIA – Eric Lindros stepped out of the dugout to a roar he hadn’t heard in Philadelphia in almost 12 years.
Big E had his standing O.
Lindros pointed his stick toward nearly 49,000 fans and took his long-overdue walk toward the infield ice to join his Flyers teammates. One of the great players in a franchise loaded with them was back in the orange and black.
With a packed Philadelphia crowd standing and going wild in appreciation, Lindros made a triumphant return to the city in a Philadelphia Flyers jersey, a bitter parting more than a decade ago forgotten from the moment No. 88 hit the ice for warmups.
The red reserved for the Phillies at Citizens Bank park gave way to 40,000 fans in Flyers orange—so many who paid just to see Lindros play in the alumni showcase, a prelude to Monday’s Winter Classic between the Flyers and New York Rangers.
Lindros assisted on the first goal of the game, connecting with former Legion of Doom linemate John LeClair, to help the former Flyers beat the old-time Rangers 3-1 Saturday.
“It really felt special here,” Lindros said. “It’s nice to be back and heading out to restaurants and hearing the well wishes around town. I’m happy to be here and catch up with some people I haven’t seen in a while.”
Lindros’ last appearance for the Flyers was in May 2000 when he was laid out by New Jersey’s Scott Stevens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
He would be traded 15 months later to the Rangers because of a nasty falling out with former general manager Bobby Clarke.
All was forgiven Saturday.
Lindros and Clarke, who won two Stanley Cups with the Flyers in the 1970s, chatted and skated together during warmups. Clarke received a huge ovation from the 45,808 fans who filled a reconfigured ballpark. Lindros also took a seat on the bench during intermission with youth teams playing on an auxiliary rink.
The two Flyers greats—who led a triumphant final lap around the ice when the team left the Spectrum in 1996—hadn’t talked since the trade until this weekend.
“It’s good. We talked this morning and everything’s great,” Lindros said.
Clarke, still an adviser to the Flyers, stood by his comments that all ill will toward Lindros evaporated the day of the New York trade.
“He’s 38. He can make a comeback,” Clarke said, laughing.
After Lindros, the loudest cheers were reserved for goalie Bernie Parent. “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” echoed throughout the park for the affable goalie, who sparked the phrase in the ’70s, “Only The Lord Saves More Than Bernie Parent.”
Parent played five minutes 32 seconds and stopped all six shots. Each save made the “Bernie!” chants return.
“I felt the pressure,” Parent said. “Once you get on the ice, you want to perform, you want to do well in front of your fans.”
Shjon Podein and Mark Howe also scored for the Flyers and Pat Quinn was behind the bench.
Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff between honorary captains Clarke and Mark Messier.
Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves and Stephane Matteau were among the former Rangers who returned for this reunion, also having won the franchise’s last Stanley Cup in 1994. Mike Keenan coached the Rangers.
“These were successful players who had successful runs,” Keenan said.
Glenn Anderson scored in the second period for the Rangers.
“Once you get to a certain age and have bypassed your prime, there’s a lot of mistakes and it’s pretty funny to watch,” Anderson said.
Wins and goals hardly mattered Saturday.
This was all about Lindros’ homecoming.
Lindros and the Flyers had been estranged since their breakup more than a decade ago. Lindros won a Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, made six all-star teams, and led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1997. His career was shortened by a series of concussions, and clasheswith management paved his way out of town.
From the moment No. 88 peeked out of the Phillies’ dugout, the crowd stood and started cheering. The fans went wild when Lindros took the long walk to the infield rink that stretched from first base to third base.
He raised his arms in triumph and broke into a wide smile after his feed to LeClair put the Flyers up 1-0. LeClair, Lindros and winger Mikael Renberg comprised the popular and productive Legion of Doom line in the 1990s that helped the Flyers out of their darkest era in franchise history and into the finals.
The game served as opening act for a week’s worth of games. High school, college and minor league teams will play at Citizens Bank Park and there’s an open skate for fans.
Saturday’s start time was pushed back two hours to 3 p.m. for more ideal temperatures for the outdoor game.
The NHL expects Monday’s game to start at its scheduled 1 p.m. time.
“We have a pretty big window to get the game in,” said NHL chief operating officer John Collins.
Collins addressed other topics on the future of the Winter Classic:
—The NHL isn’t likely to stretch much beyond the Midwest for future Winter Classics because it likes the 1 p.m. ET window on Jan. 1 or 2.
—The NHL has considered Citi Field, MetLife Stadium, the Yale Bowl, and even West Point as potential sites in New York/New Jersey. Detroit is in the mix as potential future site.
—The NHL and HBO have not yet talked about a “24/7” going forward for 2012.
—Canadian teams could become part of the Classic.
—Collins on the Jan. 1 day off: “It’s not ideal that we have this dead day tomorrow. But it’s kind of nice in that it stretches the event over a couple of days and I think there are more fans who have the ability to come out and touch it and feel it.”