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Remembering Eric Lindros’ first game in Quebec, 20 years later

Getty ImagesHe told them not to, but they did it anyway.

The television camera was fixed on Eric Lindros' face as Quebec Nordiques GM Pierre Page announced him as the No. 1 overall pick at the 1991 NHL draft. His fingers were squeezing his bottom lip out of anticipation and anxiety, and as soon as Page uttered, "From the Oshawa Generals..." Lindros cracked half a smile out of disbelief. It was a smile that plainly said, "I can't believe they just [expletive] did that."

Despite proclaiming leading up to the draft that he would never play for the franchise, Lindros went through the formalities that day: posing for pictures on the stage in Buffalo, shaking hands with the various Nordiques executives at their table and receiving the team jersey from Page. But instead of proudly wearing the Nordiques crest on his chest and hat on his head, advertising his commitment to the franchise, Lindros instead carried it draped over his arm.

"If you use your imagination, usually you can come up to a good ending." - Page, when asked about trying to convince Lindros to sign with the team.

We all know how the story proceeds from there. A year later, Lindros' future was determined by an arbitrator and he was sent to Philadelphia. Concussions would rob Lindros of a first ballot Hall of Fame career, but not before being a seven-time All-Star, Hart Trophy winner in 1995 and leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997.

But before all of that, on Oct. 13, 1992, in the fourth game of his NHL career, Lindros had to face the people of Quebec for the first time as a member of the Flyers. While he had played an exhibition game in the Colisee for Team Canada against the Soviet Union in September 1991, there was still hope then that Lindros would end up a Nordique. It wasn't until 16 months after the 1991 draft, when the saga was finally over, that Nordiques fans were finally able to vent their frustrations.

Bitter divorces between players and teams have been a part of sports forever, but the vitriol unleashed that night in Quebec had been brewing for a long time. Lindros' refusal to play for the Nordiques was taken as an insult to both the city and culture of Quebec. It wasn't going to be a normal regular-season game for the Nordiques or the Flyers.

"I don't expect roses. I don't expect any gifts. Just regular boos. That should do it. It's just a hockey game," said Lindros, unaware of what was to come.

NHL.comJon Scher captured the atmosphere inside the Colisee in an article for Sports Illustrated two weeks later:

Mais bien sûr. It's perfectly normal for adults to wear diapers over their pants to a hockey game. Some even came shirtless, wearing bonnets and waving rattles. The presumed intent of this infantile display was to show that Lindros was a baby. A Quebec radio station even distributed pacifiers outside the Colisée to fans, who obligingly hurled them onto the ice. Play was stopped countless times to shovel away the pacifiers and other debris. "If I ever have kids, they'll have pacifiers to suck on for life," Lindros said after the game. NHL president Gil Stein, who was in attendance, was hit by a pacifier, and he was seated behind the Quebec bench. "It wasn't even my size," Stein complained.

As a result of these goings-on, one fan was injured when she was struck in the face by a golf ball, and nobody was ejected from the building. The public-address announcer even neglected to tell the crowd to cease and desist.

...

Inside, the old building was packed to the rafters. Lindros was booed when he took the ice for warmups and every time he touched the puck thereafter. "Fans in Philadelphia are kittens on the curtain compared to these people," he said afterward.

(Kittens. When have Philadelphia sports fans ever been compared to cute, cuddly creatures?)

Nothing served as to distract Lindros that night as he scored twice, but the Flyers would fall 6-3. The pent up emotion of Nordiques fans was released that night and starting the next day both sides began going their separate ways. When he officially retired in 2007, Lindros said he regretted not clearly expressing his feelings at the time, saying his refusal was more to do with Nordiques ownership than the city and people of Quebec.

Despite moving to Colorado three years later, Quebec would get the last laugh on Lindros owning a 4-1-1 record when he and the Flyers came to town. More importantly, a first-place finish in the Northeast Division in 1995, their final season in Quebec, was helped by a young Swedish player acquired in the Lindros deal: Peter Forsberg. One season later, the Nordiques traded Jocelyn Thibault -- one of the draft picks received for Lindros -- to acquire Patrick Roy. Six months later the Avalanche raised the Stanley Cup, defeating the Florida Panthers, the team that ousted Lindros and the Flyers in the second round.

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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