Sometimes I hate learning the full story.
Eric Lindros might have been my least favorite player in the NHL at one point. He had a bad reputation as an enfant terrible during his junior days; the negotiations between the Lindros family and Sault Ste. Marie are the stuff of legend. Then he sat out a year instead of signing with the Quebec Nordiques, who drafted him first overall -- in Buffalo, no less. Lindros wouldn't even put on a Quebec jersey.
Lindros orchestrated a trade to the Flyers. He was big, tough and good, especially by 19-year-old standards. But injuries didn't allow him to live up to his potential, and his exit from Philadelphia wasn't a pretty one.
In other words, he was a tough guy to admire.
Then ... I read a story about how he got his number, the distinctive #88.
It seems that Lindros played junior hockey with the son of John McCauley. For those who don't know their referees, John McCauley was one of the classiest guys in the National Hockey League. He was an official for a while until he was assaulted by a fan after a game in the Soviet Union and had to give up his main job in 1979. He moved on to the league office, and eventually became the Director of Officiating for the league in 1986. He stayed in that spot until his death in 1989.
I worked for the Sabres in those years, and it was always nice to see John in Buffalo during hockey season.
It turns out McCauley served as something of a mentor for Lindros in the early days of the player's career. Lindros wanted to return the favor by using the number McCauley had on his back as an official -- eight. But that number was taken on the junior hockey team. So Lindros paid tribute to McCauley by doubling up his uniform number to 88.
It's really hard to hate a guy like that. Darn.