Thursday, January 16, 2014

In Praise of Johnny Vermont

It's Guest Post time again on the Phanatic, and today we have the second submission from 4Who4WhatSports.

He's taking Jamie Kennedy's advice from "Malibu's Most Wanted" and is filling up column space praising one of the most prolific goal scorers in Philadelphia Flyers history.  

Your introduction into the mind of 4Dubs went to a dark, dark place. 

I made you relive some of the worst moments in recent Flyers history but we’re about to do an about face. We’re going back to the glory days of the late 90’s/early 2000’s as I wax poetic about my all-time favorite Flyer. Ladies and gents I’m speaking of that rough-and-tumble power forward from St. Albans Vermont, the legendary left wing on the Legion of Doom: John LeClair.

The fateful day when the lumbering forward, miscast in Montreal, joined the Orange and Black was an extremely bittersweet day for nine-year-old me. My love for hockey was in its early stages and the only other player I knew besides Eric Lindros was Mark Recchi, so to find out he was traded for three guys I never heard of didn’t make young me all too happy. 

A mere few days after that Terry Murray made a decision that got me, and I’m sure many other Philadelphians, hooked on hockey by assembling on of the best lines in Flyers’ history. Partnered with the aforementioned Lindros, debatably the best player in the world at the time, and gigantic sophomore Swede Mikael Renberg, LeClair rounded out The Legion of Doom. 

All three players were relentless in their pursuit of the puck and I still have yet to see a trio play the cycle game, take possession and keep the puck with physicality like these men among boys. I spent days on my driveway ripping slap shot after slap shot on orange Mylec balls in hopes that I may someday reach Johnny Vermont's velocity. The man crush was officially on.

For as much as I loved him, I have no specific memory to isolate and say “that’s why I love LeClair!” 

Sure I remember that he became the first American player to score 50-plus goals in three consecutive seasons (1995-98). Who can forget the 1996 World Cup of Hockey where Johnny was a major part in the United States stealing two games in Canada against their bitter rivals to win it all? But what drew me to LeClair was his unstoppable work ethic that I learned doing a sixth-grade report on him. 

Despite being cut form his high school team during his freshman year, specifically due to his lack of skating ability, LeClair worked on his weaknesses and overcame the odds, eventually hooking on at the nearby University of Vermont and then onto a Stanley Cup winning Canadiens team in 1993 where he scored overtime goals on back-to-back nights in Los Angeles which helped the Habs clinch their last title. 

That work ethic also shone through in the dirty jobs. The punishment LeClair would take in front of the net, was absurd. You have to remember that these were the days of the clutch-and-grab era. No one was given an inch on the ice without having to take a mugging. But there was Johnny on the spot, always camped out willing to take the abuse from aggressive defenseman just to get what hockey heads call a garbage goal. I modeled my game after this and I still play like that to this day, just ask Bob. (Ed note: no comment).

It may not be the prettiest way to play but it sure was effective. Just ask Tim Kerr, who laid the foundations for the modern power forward here in the 80s.

To be honest, the clearest memory I have of LeClair was during the alumni game of the 2012 Winter Classic between the old men of the Flyers and Rangers. The minute I knew not only LeClair and Lindros would be reunited on the ice I had to attend. I went with my dad, one of my best friends, his dad and my best friend’s son who also happens to be my Godson. He was only three at the time but to experience watching two-thirds of the best hockey line of my lifetime and to relive that with my best friend and my dad, let’s just say it was a special moment. 

The cherry on top of it all though was this special goal:

It honestly still gives me goosebumps to recall that I got to witness one more goal from Johnny Vermont thanks to an assist from Big E -- and not just by myself but surrounded with the people whom I watched most of those glory days of Flyerdom and thousands of other faithful who were rewarded that day.

For sure there are other players I’ve liked that have skated through Philadelphia since I've learned to bleed orange. To be honest, some of them might have even been better overall players than my favorite. The thing is you always remember your first love and mine just so happened to be that 6-foot-3, 225-pound scoring machine from St Albans. The one, the only, John LeClair.

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