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Remembering Pelle... 24 years later

November 10, 2009, 1:06 AM ET [ Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
I would like to thank Brian Startare for having me on as a guest on his WIP (610 AM) radio show late this evening. Today, November 10, 2009, marks the 24th anniversary of the fatal one-car accident that took the life of Flyers' goaltender Pelle Lindbergh.

In honor of Pelle's memory, I thought I would share another excerpt from Pelle Lindbergh: Behind the White Mask. This one comes from the last chapter of the manuscript. Trimmed for length from the final version of the book, these are the eloquent and heartfelt words of Bernie Parent, Dave Poulin and Brian Propp in recalling their friend:

***

Bernie Parent

“I only knew Pelle for a few years, but our relationship was as beautiful and meaningful as a father’s relationship with a son. Everyone talks about how I was his hero and helped him as a goalie. I did my part as a coach but I’ll tell you what – Pelle was the one who put in the work and he was a pleasure to be with, both on and off the ice.

“When we had good times, we laughed together. When there were tough times, we cried together. When Pelle needed me, I was always there. And, well, I don’t even want to think about what might have happened with me if I hadn’t gotten to know Pelle at that time in my life and been responsible for his goaltending play with the Flyers. I’m just grateful that he was there at that time, even if it was way too short.

“If you’re lucky, you meet the right people at the right time in life, and that’s how it was with me and Pelle. I had gone from the top of the mountain to the deepest valley after I had to retire with the eye injury. But then God brings this wonderful kid into my life, and we share part of it together. Pelle really was the right person at the right time for me.

“He left us when he was so young, but he did a lot in 26 years. I came to admire him as much as he admired me. I believe that all the material things in life eventually go away. The only thing you can't take away is the beautiful memories that we have of Pelle. He was a wonderful person who lives in our hearts."

***

Dave Poulin

"Pelle's death shook every one of us to our core. It shattered the illusion of invincibility that athletes – especially young ones – often feel. Playing hockey was cathartic for us, but it was very hard to carry on in the beginning. We were already a close-knit group, but losing Pelle made us realize just how much we meant to each other. We helped support one another.

“I felt very close to Pelle. Perhaps it was because I played in Sweden, and understood where he came from. I knew how it felt to come from another country, and sit in a dressing room and not understand everything. Someone would make a joke, everyone would laugh and then they’d look at you, like ‘Did you understand that?’ You didn’t always understand.

“When I think of Pelle, there are two images that resonate. First of all, he was a very dedicated hockey player. He was always striving to get better. Secondly, he was a truly genuine, caring and compassionate human being.

“You have to learn from your own mistakes, and you have the potential of learning from others’ mistakes as well. Back in those days, we all drank a few beers or partied and then we drove our cars home. I did the same thing. But after the night Pelle died, I never did it again.

“When I was coaching at Notre Dame, the games were played on Fridays and Saturdays. My players were 18 to 22 years old – right at the age where they feel that invincibility of youth, and there are ample opportunities to make choices where they may not consider the risks and potential consequences. I always finished our team meetings by reminding the players not to drink and drive.

“You experience an array of emotions when you suddenly lose someone close to you, the way we lost Pelle – denial, anger, despair. Ultimately, you come to understand that it’s all part of the grieving process. Everyone faces challenges and trying times. Sometimes, the most valuable lessons you learn are the ones that come from adversity.”

***

Brian Propp

“I keep a framed photo of Pelle in my office, so I’ll see it every day. The jersey is the only game-used one from my career that I still have. Pelle will always be with me – and all of us on who were his teammates. The memories I hold closest are the ones of a guy who was more than just a good goaltender and teammate. He was a real special person who had a tremendous sense of humor and a real gift for laughter.

“Pelle was so positive, so upbeat. He was also very competitive on the rink. He and I used to have breakaway competitions after practice, and we’d have a great time. Neither one of us wanted to let the other guy get bragging rights on the last shot. If I scored, he’d want another chance to make a save. If he stopped me, I’d want another chance to score. We’d go on and on, just laughing and having fun.

“The way that Pelle died was such a shock, because he really wasn’t a guy who drank. People shouldn’t forget that. On the night he died, I had gone to my beach house after the game because we had a break in the schedule. I was called up that morning by one of the wives in the team and left my house to go straight to the hospital. I arrived there at the same time as Bob Froese.

“Since that time, I've been to the crash site and looked at that wall. If Pelle’s car had hit five feet either way, it would have caromed off. But at the angle the car hit, it stuck in the worst possible place, where the wall meets the steps. He took the full impact on the driver’s side of the car.

“Pelle was only just beginning to tap into his potential, and he was already a Vezina Trophy winner. When I watch Martin Brodeur today, I always think of Pelle. That’s the kind of career he’d have had.

“One of my few regrets in my career is that we couldn’t have enjoyed Pelle longer, because he was a joy to have as a teammate and as a friend.”
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