PHILADELPHIA -- When it comes to mind games, Philadelphia Flyers star defenceman Chris Pronger may have met his match in Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Eager.
After the Blackhawks beat the Flyers 2-1 in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup final on Monday, Pronger scooped up the puck when the horn sounded for the second straight game. Eager also wanted to lasso the puck for a keepsake.
Pronger snapped a towel in Eager's direction when the two met. The two exchanged words and received 10-minute misconducts. The Flyers defenceman remarked that he accomplished his mission because his actions irritated Eager. He also said that he deposited the puck in the garbage.
But the Blackhawks fourth-liner didn't seem upset at all afterwards.
"He's been picking up pucks after the game, and I just told him he can keep it," said a grinning Eager, who scored the game-winning goal while Pronger was on the ice.
The 26-year-old Eager has scored two career goals in 33 career playoff games and both have been game-winners. The latest, which arrived almost 13 months after his previous playoff tally, set off a wild celebration at the United Center and at Patty's Pub in South Ottawa.
The Irish pub is one of the oldest in the Nation's Capital, also Eager's hometown. It is owned by Arthur Hodgins Jr., whose son M.J. is a close friend of Eager's.
Eager a presence at Patty's
That's why behind the bar that Corri Greenberg patrols at Patty's on most nights there are a pair of No. 55 Eager sweaters hanging on the wall. One from his days as a Flyer and the other his Blackhawks jersey.
"I was in here with a bunch of buddies I play football with and there was quite a celebration when Ben scored," M.J. recalled from the pub on Tuesday evening. "I'd say 90 per cent of the people in here were cheering for the Blackhawks. It was pretty cool to have people come up to me and say 'that was your buddy who scored, wasn't it?'"
The younger Hodgins exchanged text messages with his friend after the game. The message basically was that they are only two wins from hockey's ultimate prize.
Hodgins said it's been a blast to watch a close friend whom he went to elementary, middle and high school with, a pal with whom he played high school rugby and basketball, move to within two victories of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"When we were younger I remember scouts telling Ben that he had the size to play in the NHL," Hodgins said.
Eager's father, also named Arthur, likes to tell the story that when his son was 11, Ben told him that he couldn't wait until the following year because that was the earliest level for contact hockey.
"I've heard him tell the story," Ben said. "But I don't know if I ever said that. I was just a kid and I can't remember back that far."
Eager certainly loves contact. He is a rugged player who skates well and along with his linemate Adam Burish gets under opponents' skin with their omnipresent trash talking.
Once a fan favourite in Philly
Eager left Ottawa a decade ago to play for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. He was good enough to twice earn a spot on the Canadian under-18 team. Phoenix Coyotes scout Charlie Henry, who lived in the Ottawa area, urged his club to draft Eager in the first round in 2003, 23rd overall.
But before Eager left junior, the Coyotes had traded him to the Flyers, a team he seemed made for. He won an AHL Calder Cup championship with the Phantoms in 2004-05 across the parking lot from the Wachovia Center in the soon-to-be-demolished Spectrum. On that team were current Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards as well as his Blackhawks teammate Patrick Sharp.
In his only full season with the Flyers, Eager led the league with 233 penalty minutes in just 63 games. His teammates voted him the winner of the 2006-07 Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved player.
He made an impact and became a fan favourite in Philadelphia, even though he played in only 111 regular-season and two playoff games until his trade to Chicago for defenceman Jim Vandermeer in December 2007.
That's why he is looking forward to returning to the Wachovia Center on such a grand stage as the Stanley Cup final for Game 3 on Wednesday.
"It's going to be fun," said Eager, whose Blackhawks have won seven in a row. "I had a lot of great times in Philadelphia. They gave me a chance to play in the NHL, and I'm thankful for that.
"But it's one thing to be playing in the NHL. But to be playing against the Flyers is pretty cool. And it's going to be a good atmosphere at the Wachovia Center next game."
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