Friday, November 21, 2014

Renberg's surprising post-hockey life; Lindros and LeClair return to rave reviews

Thanks to Getty Images
Don't cry for Mikael Renberg, Delaware Valley.

Although he was not formally honored alongside his Legion of Doom-mates Eric Lindros and John LeClair in Thursday night's 14th edition of the Flyers' Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, the 42-year-old Swede who once again resides in his native country was going to be there to aid in the celebration.

"It means a lot. I really had a tough time to come here because I have family and I have school back home and some other things," he said. "But when Eric sent me a mail and wanted me to come, I just couldn't say no then. It brings back a lot of memories."

Renberg, as you recall, was not able to attend the club's activities surrounding the Winter Classic nearly three years ago. At the time, he was contracted by Swedish television station SVT to accompany its talent to the World Junior Championship which took place in Alberta's two largest cities. Thus, thousands who showed up to Citizens Bank Park on December 31 were treated to just two-thirds of the Legion on ice.

And there was the resultant shock when the Flyers announced in the offseason that only the same two-thirds of that famous line was set to join the franchise elite this year.

You don't have to worry about television duties taking the last piece to the Legion's puzzle away from any future reunions or remembrances. It's just one small part of Renberg's plan for the rest of his life. That school he referenced earlier will prepare him for the next stage  -- which includes a career in the health care field.

"I work with Swedish TV. It's just a part-time thing. In two months. I'm going to be a phsyiotherapist.  I've been doing (that) three years in school ... up in Lulea at the technical university. I'm going to move down to Stockholm and start working."
It's not as far fetched as it seems. For a guy who spent just as much time in the infirmary than he did on the ice due to injuries such as a stomach muscle issue that sidelined him for a significant chunk of one season here to a necrotic infection which nearly cost him his right hand in his later years with Toronto, of course Renberg might want to continue his professional life easing the pain of others.

It also gave him a sense of purpose.

"One year when I was done playing, I did nothing -- and I didn't like that," Renberg added. "I didn't know if it was Tuesday or Saturday half the time. So, I decided to get an education."

Lulea is the flagship campus of four scattered throughout the northern portions of Sweden, boasting 16,000 students and offering almost two dozen masters programs. The school is located roughly 35 miles to the north and east of Renberg's hometown of Pitea, both fairly close to the border with Finland.

The discipline isn't just someone in an office with a massage chair, nor is it some hippie-dippie philosophy intent on healing through holistic means. According to the Chartered Society, physiotherapy "is a science-based profession and takes a ‘whole person’ approach to health and well-being, which includes the patient’s general lifestyle. At the core is the patient’s involvement in their own care, through education, awareness, empowerment and participation in their treatment."

Renberg will provide professional assistance for people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice. There's also elements of pain management and disease prevention.

*        *        *

Since the fortunes of the Philadelphia Flyers turned once both Eric Lindros and John LeClair were
placed on the same line by Terry Murray back in February of 1995, it was fitting that both men took to the podium at center ice together.

Honoring more than one deserving former player, coach or front office member in any given ceremony is not a novel concept: it was done the first six times from Bernie Parent and Bob Clarke's night in March of 1988 through April of 1993 when Joe Scott and Ed Van Impe took their turns, before being revived last night; but for the first time, both players chose to give their respective speeches at the same time.

When they walked out from the beneath the stands to their place at center ice, it was not surprising that LeClair received the most intense greeting while Lindros received the longest. Brief remarks followed by both, thanking numerous former teammates and people within the organization.

"Johnny Vermont, the 45-year-old resident of the Main Line and one of a mere three players in club annals to score 40 goals on five different occasions and just the second (behind Tim Kerr's four) to register three seasons of at least 50, spoke first. 

"You guys are awesome," LeClair told the packed house of standing faithful. "Win or tie you were always behind us. .You didn't accept losing. Night in and night out, you brought passion to the (Spectrum and) Wells Fargo Center. Here's to the best fans in the NHL."

He called his three children "my greatest hat trick ever," adding to the 12 he recorded with the Orange and Black, and made a specific point to tell his partner in crime that he owed a lot of success in his career to playing on a line with Lindros.  

To me it’s great. Eric has been such a big part of my career and to have him right there next to me with everything is quite immense," LeClair said. "Obviously, with what he’s done to get me to this point, to have him standing next to me is going to be a big thrill.”

“I didn’t know a whole lot about John. Obviously, we played against one another about six times prior to that trade," Lindros had said in a Monday press conference. "Certainly knew that they had a great deal of success in the (Canadiens' 1993) playoff run, which John was a huge part of. Things seemed to click within the first practice things seemed to really roll. We had a great deal of fun, we worked hard, and we really wanted to score in practices as much as we could."  

That camaraderie which was created was evident in the moment.  

Then it was Lindros' turn.  The Flyers' leader in all-time points-per-game and the youngest captain in team history was buttressed by his wife and new sons, and he spoke pointedly of relations present, past and not in attendance.

"To my parents and my family, who sacrificed countless hours helping me every step of the way – without them, it just doesn’t happen.  I now have a new team … we’re a little bit smaller and overall don’t sleep very much, but on behalf of Kina and my son Carl Pierre, a happy boy – love you guys – we’d like to thank you all for this wonderful acknowledgement."

Finally, it was time for the Legion of Doom to be reunited. There was no question this time that Renberg would be present for the ceremony. Having him present both former line mates with their respective busts and to watch as their names were added to the rafters on the list of the honored, left both fans and press box residents swimming in nostalgia and claiming sudden dust storms swirled inside the arena.

It marked the first time since the final shift of Game 4 in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals -- a 2-1 loss in Detroit which finished off the Red Wings' sweep despite Lindros' tally in the final seconds -- that Lindros, LeClair and Renberg shared the ice together.  

"Oh man ... it was great. I texted my Mom and said I wish I was 15 years younger so I could re-do my career, but I can't ... it was great playing here," Renberg said of the warm reception from nearly 20,000 fans.

Favorite Legion Moments

Every site seems to indulge in making posts out of lists, but when we're talking about a night honoring most of what is arguably the second-greatest line in franchise history, it practically begs for a countdown of great moments.

The following are my own top five, which may not have anything to do with the usual highlight-reel stuff, strictly covering the regular season and only the period where the Legion of Doom was intact.

#5. March 19, 1997 -- Flyers 6, Toronto 3 at Maple Leaf Gardens: On this night in the venerable old building, the first-place Flyers trailed the last-place Leafs by a goal early in the third period. Enter Sandman, aka Lindros, who silenced the crowd of his "hometown" team and scored three of his four goals on the night to reverse that trend. Mikael Renberg potted one of his two goals in the furious flurry.

The Legion ended up accumulating 13 points, lost in the haze of their record-setting 16-point effort only weeks prior vs. the Habs in a 9-5 home victory.

#4. April 13, 1997 -- Flyers 5, Devils 4 at CoreStates Center: Having tied in Montreal the night prior and locked into the third seed in the East, the home team seemingly didn't have anything to play for in the season finale. Neither did the Devils, who by virtue of a win one night prior, were champions of the Atlantic Division and started little-used backup Mike Dunham in place of Martin Brodeur.

Philly fell behind 4-1 after two periods but rallied in the third. LeClair scored the tying goal with 4:07 left in regulation for his second straight season of 50 goals, while Trent Klatt potted the winner on the power play with 1:34 to go. Lindros kicked off the four-goal burst on his even-strength marker at 6:43.

#3. April 22, 1995 -- Flyers 4, Devils 3 (OT) at Meadowlands: Two days after clinching their first playoff berth since 1989 with a 2-1 decision over the Islanders, the Orange and Black had a chance to win the Atlantic Division for the first time ever if they beat New Jersey. Lindros' second-period score gave the visitors a 3-1 lead, but the hosts scored twice in the third to tie.

That set up the dramatic winner, from LeClair, who snuck a shot past Brodeur at the right post on a wraparound at 54 seconds of the extra session. Gaining one of the two top seeds in the conference enabled the Flyers to embark upon their memorable playoff run.

#2. February 25, 1995 -- Flyers 7, Canadiens 0 at Montreal Forum: Only 16 days after the three-for-one trade with the Habs saw LeClair along with Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne shipped to Philadelphia, Terry Murray's club arrived in the city on a Saturday night to finish off a two-game Quebec road trip.

Chastened by a 6-6 tie two nights prior where the visitors wasted leads of 2-0 and 6-3, it took a while for the Flyers to kick the revenge machine into gear. A scoreless game after one turned into a two-goal lead after two thanks to a pair of LeClair tallies against Patrick Roy almost six minutes apart, then LeClair finished off his trifecta with his club's fourth goal only 73 seconds into the third period on assists from Lindros and Renberg.

Kevin Dineen, Desjardins and Patrik Juhlin scored to chase Roy and finish the rout, but the line's dominance and the magnitude of the win against a team less than two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup served notice to North America who got the best of the transaction.

#1. March 19, 1996 -- Flyers 4, Islanders 1 at the Spectrum: It was an ordinary, perfunctory mid-week home victory against a cellar-dwelling opponent, but one in which the Legion of Doom proved that it could be a force not only on the scoreboard, but in the trenches and also when welcoming other players into the fold.

Murray used the tilt to see how many other potential line combinations fared in the wake of moves at the trade deadline, but no matter. In its time together, the Legion combined to accumulate 19 of the club's 41 shots against New York goaltenders Tommy Soderstrom and Eric Fichaud, with Lindros racking up a career-best 14 shots by himself. When Philly's top three players were on the ice, the Islanders simply did not gain possession of the puck, and if an opposing player did manage to find it on his stick, he was treated like a pinball meeting flippers.

The cycle game, the possession game and passing game were in complete control on this night, and an abundance of points weren't necessary to underline that largesse.

Playoff special: If I had to offer up one singular favorite memory of the impact the Legion of Doom had on Flyers hockey in the 90s, it would be the following.

Memorial Day weekend, 1997. Flyers and Rangers engaged in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden, I was engaged in partying down the Jersey shore and shuttling between houses in Margate and Avalon rented by high school friends.

The property in Margate was a back-entrance attic apartment with no TV, so I was stuck peering in a neighbor's window to take score checks back to everybody gathered. Later in the evening, I decided to head for the more spacious digs on the Seven Mile island and listened to the radio call while en route.

I had only reached the tolls at the end of the old Somers Point-Ocean City bridge, and typical for that time of night on a holiday weekend, there was a line stretching back a quarter mile. The game, a 2-2 tie, was winding down when Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom turned his stick into LeClair's face, giving the Flyers a four-minute power play to exploit.

I was five cars from the booth when Lindros shocked the world with his backhander in the game's final seven seconds which won the game and gave Philly a 3-1 series lead. When the goal was scored, along with John Weidemann's impassioned words emanating from the stereo and drifting out each window, every car in line honked their horn and people both behind and in front of me were yelling out the window in celebration. It was an unexpected, beautiful communal moment.
Post a Comment