ASK RETIRED Flyers defenseman Ed Van Impe if he sees any of himself in the team's current standout backliner, Chris Pronger, and he offers a qualified yes.
"Probably a little bit," Van Impe, 70, said from his home in British Columbia. "I used to take pride in my defensive play, in taking care of my own end and clearing out the front of the net so the goaltender can see the puck. Chris is like that, too."
But Van Impe, a member of the Flyers' 1974 and '75 Stanley Cup championship teams, is honest enough and realistic enough that he won't say that Pronger's abilities are a mirror image of his own.
"Believe me, Chris Pronger is light years ahead of me in terms of overall ability is concerned," Van Impe said. "He's a dominant player.
"The game has changed so much, his style is a heck of a lot different from mine. He can handle the puck much better than I did."
Although Van Impe also played, and played well, with the Chicago Blackhawks - after the 1966-67 season he finished second to Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr in the rookie of the year voting - he was left unprotected in the league's 1967 expansion draft and was selected by the new Flyers franchise. He stayed for 8 1/2 years before being traded to Pittsburgh, where he played just 22 games for the Penguins in 1976, his final NHL season. He still considers his former Flyers teammates and longtime members of the organization as family.
"We used to have a golf tournament down at the Jersey Shore," he said of what was once an annual affair for Flyers alumni. "But whenever we're together we pick up right where we left off over 30 years ago. It's still a very close, tight-knit bunch."
As a lifetime Flyer at heart, Van Impe said he was thrilled when the team acquired Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks in a June 2009 trade.
"Chris has given them something they didn't have, and that's a defenseman that can play real tough in his own zone," Van Impe said of the 35-year-old Pronger, the only current player to have been a part of a Stanley Cup-winning team, with Anaheim in 2007. "He's commanded respect throughout the entire league for many years.
"There aren't many players who are on the ice for as many minutes and as many shifts as he is. As capable as he is on defense, he's also a threat on offense. He's used on the point on the power play. He's as complete a player as anybody could possibly be."
And, although Pronger has a ring from his championship season in Anaheim, Van Impe said he'd love to talk to him when he brings the Cup back to Philadelphia for the first time in 35 years.
"Then we'd really have something in common," Van Impe said. *