Wade's World

Just leave it where Jesus flang it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hockey News: Scott Stevens Retires

And 1 Million Flyers fans collectively heave a great sigh as they wish him a fond farewell! Seriously, Scott Stevens is one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, and any forward who had the audacity to skate through open ice with his head down could expect a hearty "Howdy Do!" from Mr. Stevens. Just ask Eric Lindros.

Lindros' head rocked like you would imagine a person's head in a car accident being rocked. His face went blank, body limp, but still held upright by the terrific force of the collision as if by an invisible rope, then dropping like one of those skyscrapers that are dynamited from the inside.

Lindros looked oblivious, defenceless, out on his feet as he feel earthward, his head then snapping off the ice.

His helmet settled over his eyes as Lindros lay on his side his lips drawn into a tight line, arms in front of him as though handcuffed.

[snip]

"Our jaws dropped like everybody else's in the building," said Devils forward Bobby Holik. "He's done that to other guys, but this was the biggest, strongest guy in the league. I was in awe.

"I still can't believe it. That's what legends are made of, a play that will never be forgotten."
I, for one, will never forget it. It hurt just watching it, and not that good kind of hurt like when you compulsively rub that bruise behind you knuckle. You know the one. No, it felt more like the whoosh of a freight train that rolls past you at full speed while you're standing quayside and conjures up those stories of people getting surreptitiously sucked under the steely wheels. That adrenal pang in your stomach that says "hey, that was close, now back away."

Nor will I ever forget how that single play competely changed the momentum of that series. The Flyers went on to lose that seventh game in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, after being up three games to one with home-ice advantage. That 2000 Flyers team was something special too, in that they played well beyond themselves and found ways to win that couldn't be added up on roster sheets or tallied in scoring stats. They believed in themselves and their ailing coach. They had no fear, and even lesser talent, with their superstar center Eric Lindros riding the bench for the playoffs, up until that fateful game.

When Lindros intercepted a Scott Niedermayer pass at center ice and started to skate into the offensive zone, the crowd rose to its feet in eager anticipation. Already electrified by Lauren Hart's rendition of "God Bless America" (a Philadelphia Flyer tradition started with Kate Smith), Flyers fans sucked in their collective breaths as Lindros glided to the blue line, wondering, hoping, that the hated Devils would finally be cast off, and that the promise of another Stanley Cup (represented in the mostrous deal to acquire Lindros) was about to take that magical step across the threshold into the ante-chamber of championships, when

WHAM!

Scott Stevens ended it all. The air rushed out of the building, heads fell, and we all knew ... it was over. Not only was that it for the game, for the playoffs, for the Stanley Cup dreams, and most likely (or so we thought) for Lindros' career, that was the end of the magic that was the 2000 Flyers playoff team. With that crushingly clean blow, Scott Stevens shattered whatever mystical bond enabled a rookie goaltender (Brian Boucher) to go toe-to-toe with Martin Brodeur; that buoyed rookie defenseman Andy Delmore as he scored a hat trick (5 goals in the series) to pull ahead in the Pittsburgh series; and that propelled the entire roster through an amazing five overtime periods, the third longest game in NHL history, to tie the Pittsburgh series on the road. The Flyers feasted on the sweet ambrosia of Morpheus. Stevens brought them crashing to earth faster then you could say "Icarus."

Where the Flyers found sustenance in forgeting who they were and concentrating on the heights they sought to attain, Stevens found his fortitude in the very ground where he left his opponents a wriggling mess. He was a man of ice, cold and hard: under his feet, coursing through his veins, bursting from his eyes, and steeling his resolve. Stevens never pretended to be something other than what he was -- a hitting machine. If you came into his territory without the courtesy of brief survey, a quick look-around, well, you'd been warned. For that he reason he was feared by all the rest of the NHL, and fiercely loved at home in Joisey.

I think I can safely speak for Flyers fans everywhere when I say, "good luck with your retirement Mr. Stevens. May it be long and uneventful, yet full of enough interesting things to keep you off the ice permanently, unless ... did'ya ever consider wearing the orange and black?"

** UPDATE **

Keith Primeau gives life to my commentary above:

Doing his best to be diplomatic given the presence of Stevens' teammate Martin Brodeur on a league-organized conference call to help promote the start of training camp next week, Philadelphia Flyers captain Keith Primeau explained that the Devils were simply a different team to play against when Stevens was out of the lineup.

"There was just a different feel without Scotty there," said Primeau, whose Flyers cruised past the Devils in five games during a first-round matchup in the spring of 2004.

"He'll be sorely missed on their behalf, not necessarily so much on our part," he said.

It's hard to imagine higher praise.

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