On March 20th, 1948 Doug and Arva Orr gave birth to their third child in a Canadian town called Parry Sound. It was a difficult birth and the child’s survival was in question, but this was no average baby. This infant would grow to become Robert Gordon Orr, hockey’s greatest player!
Arva and Doug Orr named their young son after his paternal grandfather, who had been a professional soccer player in Ireland before immigrating to Canada.
Bobby began skating at the age of four, on a pair of skates that Gene Fernier, a friend of Doug Orr, had given to Bobby. The Seguin River was where young Bobby began his skating. He would spend several hours a day practicing his skating on the river and then spend an extra hour at night, taking shooting practice in his garage on Great North Rd.
Bobby quickly took to the local game of Shinny that was played on the frozen river. The object of the game was for one player to grab the puck and try and keep it on his stick as long as he could, while all of the other players tried to steal it from him. The game was considered a great way to develop stick-handling. Young Bobby Orr was the ‘King of Shinny’. Bobby recalls playing Shinny, “Most of the time we would be on the ice from early morning until dark. Sometimes there would be 30 of us, chasing after the same puck.”
Organized hockey started for Bobby at the age of five. He quickly jumped up through the levels while winning unparalleled praise and recognition before reaching the age of twelve. Royce Tennant, Bobby’s first coach, had this to say, “He was good with people. A leader in a quiet sort of way.” Bobby was a big fan of Montreal Canadian defenceman Terry Harper while growing up. He liked to watch a defenceman who was an offensive threat. I guess he learned well.
Bucko McDonald, an all-star NHL defenceman in the 1940s, coached Orr in Pee Wee and Bantam Hockey. Bucko was the one who had Bobby play defense. When Doug questioned Bucko about the move, Bucko responded, “Bobby was born to play defense”.
In 1960, in a town called Gananoque on the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the legend of Bobby Orr began to blossom. The Parry Sound Bantam All-Stars were playing in a tournament and all six NHL teams had sent scouts to the game to look at two young promising players for Ganonoque named Eaton and Higgins. Within minutes of the puck being dropped the scouts for the Boston Bruins had forgotten about Higgins and Eaton and had their eyes focused on the skinny little kid from Parry Sound. Young Mr. Orr had played 58 out of 60 minutes in the game (the other two minutes he was in the penalty box). The Boston Management (Milt Schmidt, Wren Blair, Lynn Patrick, and Weston Adams) were seated in stunned silence. Milt Schmidt finally turned to Lynn Patrick and said, “There’s a kid on that Parry Sound team and either my eyes are going bad or something, but he looks like something out of the norm”.
Patrick turned and replied, “You mean that little #2? Isn’t he something?” The race to sign the “wonder boy” had begun.
Wren Blair, Oshawa Coach and future mentor to Orr, spent many days in Parry Sound building up a rapport with the Orr family. Blair knew that Arva didn’t want her son to leave home at such a young age, so he offered to let Bobby stay at home and commute 150 miles three times a week to the games.
At the age of thirteen, Doug and Arva permitted Bobby to sign a Junior A contract card with Boston, to play for the Oshawa Generals. Bobby was still attending elementary school. The early days in Oshawa were tough ones for the Parry Sound youngster. Many of the older players initially resented the 14-year-old star. Bobby found a friend (and second father figure) in the club’s trainer, Stan Waylett. A large man, Waylett would be rough and tough on the exterior with the boys, but beneath the surface, he was a warm and caring man.
Bobby Orr is recognized today as the most dominating Junior hockey player in history. At 14 years old, he played hockey against 19 and 20-year-old players, and he was a star. Orr had four all-star seasons in Oshawa but never won the Memorial Cup.
In 1966, Orr played his most memorable Junior game against the touring Russian National Team at Maple Leaf Gardens. Although the Russians won, 4-2, the best player on the ice was Bobby Orr. He continuously intercepted the precision Russian attack and accelerated with dazzling rushes up ice.
Bobby was the first NHL player to hire a lawyer to negotiate a contract. The contract was signed aboard the 42-foot cabin cruiser, Barbara Lynn, which was owned by Boston GM Hap Emms. Orr got $50,000 for two years and a $25,000 signing bonus. By today’s standards this does not seem significant, but at the time, that deal changed the NHL pay structure forever.
Bobby was a little anxious entering his first NHL camp in London, Ontario. His mega-contract and the hype that proceeded his arrival had him worrying about the reaction of the veteran Boston players. During one of the first practice sessions in London, Boston’s veteran defensive leader, Ted Green, skated over to the young Orr and said, “Kid, I don’t know what you’re getting, but it isn’t enough.”
Young Mr. Orr experienced all the usual rookie initiations, including” The Shave”; a head to toe shaving by the team whiling being held down.
Orr did not complain about his teammates’ rough horseplay, and because of this attitude, his teammates accepted him that much quicker.
Orr’s first NHL game was against the Detroit Red Wings. He was so excited to be playing against “Mr. Howe”, that he arrived at the Garden at 1:00 pm for a 7:30 pm game. Early in the game, young Bobby put some lumber to the back of Gordie’s neck. Later in the game, Detroit’s #9 caught Orr with his head down and smashed him to the ice. Bobby remembers it like this, “He hit me a good one, I saw birds for awhile”. Gordie’s account of the check,” All of the Boston players were skating over and the young kid got up and told them: ‘Take it easy gentlemen, I deserved that!’”.
The talent and grace of this young phenom were apparent from the first moment he stepped on the garden ice. The rest of the league quickly tested his toughness and found out that it was on par with his skills. Early in his rookie season, Orr fought Montreal’s tough veteran Ted Harris. Harris hit the ice twice from punches landed by number 4.
His first goal came against the arch-rival Montreal club at the Boston Garden. The Canadians goalie, Gump Worsley, had made three saves in a row during a mad scramble in front of the Montreal net. The puck bounced back to the point after the third save. Bobby wasted no time and drilled a bullet past Worsely and scored, the roar of the Garden faithful was deafening. Montreal coach Toe Blake said, “I’ve never heard anything like it!”
Bobby’s true greatness was elevated beyond any place that ice skates could have taken him, to a place where honest humanity and compassion carried him. Young Mr. Orr took the time to answer his fan mail and make the person on the street feel they were part of his team. He is so much more than just one of the greatest hockey players ever; he is a great human being. Orr’s trademark humility may have come from his hometown’s attitude. He always kept his head down after scoring a goal, not wanting to further shame a fellow professional. Following a 1968 game at the Boston Garden, a fan’s car was stuck in a snowdrift in the rear parking lot. A young man stopped by, while the snow continued to fall, and said, “You steer, I’ll push.” After twenty minutes of pushing back and forth, the car was freed. The fan got out to thank the soaked young man and discovered that his helper was Bobby Orr.
Bobby was assigned #27 when he first signed with Boston, but he quickly switched to the legendary #4. Bobby won the Calder Trophy (top rookie) in 1966-67 and beginning in 1967-68 won the James Norris Trophy, as the NHL’s top defenseman, for the next eight years in a row. Bobby became a perennial fixture on the NHL with many other awards listed below.
The Bruins team began to come together with some young players like Calder Trophy winner Derek “Turk” Sanderson in 1967-68. Then the big trade with Chicago to get Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield really put the wheels in motion for building a dynasty in Boston. The main cog in the Big Bad Bruin wheel was clearly the young Bobby Orr. Coach Harry Sinden knew that he had something very special, and Harry used his superstar’s incredible stamina to the Bruins advantage. In his third season, he was on the ice an average of 37 minutes a game. Much of that time he was carrying the puck. That is nearly two complete periods that Orr was quarterbacking the team, each and every night. Sports Illustrated named him “Sportsman of the Year” in 1970.
When Bobby arrived in Boston, the leader in the locker room was Ted Green. In a game versus St. Louis, early in Orr’s career, the infamous pole-axing of Ted Green took place. A rookie forward named Wayne Maki took his stick to Green’s head. As Green lay motionless on the ice, Bobby Orr flew over the boards and pummeled Maki to the ice. Orr then turned to his teammate, where he quickly realized that something was seriously wrong. Green’s life was in danger after being diagnosed with a fractured skull, a blood clot, and partial paralysis. Green recovered and returned to the Bruins, but was never the same player. The Bruins needed a new leader and they soon realized it would be #4.
Looking solely at the numbers that Bobby put up, one would be led into believing that his defense suffered. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Orr’s unparalleled speed allowed him to get back into position, on the rare occasion when he would lose the puck in the offensive zone. The Bruins allowed twice as many goals with Orr on the bench.
Bobby played the game with reckless abandon. During the 1970s many fans questioned why such a superstar would sacrifice his body, by diving headfirst to block a shot. What they didn’t understand was that if Bobby Orr had pulled up, even a little, he wouldn’t have been Bobby Orr. The single most important thing that separates Orr from history’s other greats was that he possessed toughness in addition to grace, skill, and speed.
Bobby Orr went on to lead the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 29 years. The famous picture of him soaring through the air is considered by most people to be the single most defining image in NHL history. “The Goal” occurred in overtime of the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 10, 1970. Orr was reefed the puck on a give-and-go with Derek Sanderson. Blues’ defender Noel Picard tripped Orr in frustration after the puck had slid under Goalie Glenn Hall. The Boston Garden went berserk! The savior of the Boston Bruins had finally arrived.
Orr and the Bruins were upset by a star rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden and a hungry Montreal team, in the 1970-71 season. A season that Bobby considers to be the best Bruins team ever. “In my opinion, we beat them in every phase of the game, except that Dryden stood on his head and we couldn’t get the puck past him”, Orr said.
The 1971-72 hockey season began and #4 was more focused and determined than ever to win back what he believed belonged to the Bruins. After a great six-game series with N.Y. Rangers, in the finals, the cup once again belonged to Boston. Orr won the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) for the second time and remarkably, for a defenceman, had scored his second Stanley Cup-clinching goal.
Brad Park, a very good defenceman for the New York Rangers, had to live in the shadow of Bobby during the early 1970s. He was forever being compared to #4, an “honor” that was not quite fair to Brad or any other player. Luckily for Bruin fans, Orr and Park did get to play on the same team for a short while. Probably the best blueline duo, for any given moment, in hockey history.
Think about this fact for a moment: Bobby Orr twice won the NHL scoring crown (1970 and 1975). That feat may be the most incredible accomplishment in sports history. During a six-year run from 1969 to 1975, Bobby Orr scored 734 points as a defenseman. An average of 122 points per season.
Considering that he had a number of knee surgeries during this time, those numbers are beyond remarkable. Bobby Orr had changed hockey forever! The other NHL teams realized that the only way to stop Orr was to try and punish his weak knee. Many teams began running people at him and these hits started to take their toll.
In 1976 Bobby got to fulfill a lifelong dream by playing for his country in the Canada Cup series against the Soviets. Bobby won the “Outstanding Player” award as Team Canada defeated the Soviets. Despite not being able to practice and having to wear six and seven ice packs after each game, Orr drew upon his immense courage and played through extreme pain to lead his country to victory.
Boston management offered Bobby part ownership of the team in 1976. Orr’s agent did not inform him of the offer, so in 1976 Orr signed with Chicago for 3 million dollars over 5 years. Bobby played only 26 games for the Blackhawks. Another display of his character was the fact that Orr returned the few paychecks he received from Chicago, saying that he hadn’t earned them. Orr has said that he needed to go to Chicago to prove to himself that he could still play. After two injuries filled years he knew that his knees could no longer take it. At a tearful news conference on November 8th, 1978, one of the greatest hockey players of all-time hung up his skates. Recently Bobby talked about his retirement, “It was frightening to be 30 years old and not know what I was going to do next.”
On January 9, 1979, the Boston Bruins held “Bobby Orr Night”. When Bobby was finally introduced, the Boston Garden crowd stood and cheered for eleven solid minutes and would not let Mr. Orr speak. Finally, the noise subsided and the #4 was lifted to the rafters while Bobby and his family looked on. In 1979 the Hockey Hall of Fame elected Robert Gordon Orr to be enshrined into its hallowed halls. Bobby was and still is, the youngest player ever to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was 31 years old!
In a Boston newspaper poll in 1989, the readers of New England were asked what athlete best represents Boston Sports. Ted Williams didn’t win.
Larry Bird didn’t win. The Winner was old #4, Bobby Orr. Even the great players of today, like Ray Bourque, have tremendous respect for #4 and his legacy. Legendary basketball star Larry Bird was seen during every home game standing isolated and staring up while the national anthem played. When asked what this ritual was all about, Bird said, “I look at Bobby Orr’s banner for inspiration.”
Bobby spends much of his post-playing days with his loving family: wife Peggy and sons Darren and Brent. His love of hockey has kept him involved in sports; he now works as a sports agent. In his free time, Bobby plays a lot of golf near his home on Cape Cod. He still spends a lot of time on charity work throughout New England.
He continually declines to take advantage of his name. He is offered thousands of dollars to appear at memorabilia shows, but always respectfully rejects such proposals. “I just don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’m not criticizing others for doing it, but it just isn’t right for me.”, Orr says.
Orr played in only twelve seasons and only in his first nine seasons (totaling 621 games from 1966-1975) did Orr play a majority or all of the games. Although his career was shortened by injury, Orr accomplished many records and achievements, a number of which still stand today, and are listed below.
- First defenceman to score 30 goals in a season (1969–70)
- First defenceman to score 40 goals in a season (1974–75)
- First player to record 100 assists in a season (1969–70)
- Only defenceman to lead the league in scoring (1969–70, 1974–75)
- Only player ever to win the Norris Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and Conn Smythe Trophy in one season (1969–70)
- Second all-time in career plus-minus rating (+597) (retired as the overall leader)
- Fourth in league history in career point-per-game average, all-time, (1.393)
- Fifty-ninth overall in league history in career assists and 90th in career points
Biography courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame and www.bobbyorr.net
Forget about style; worry about results – Bobby Orr
There are no environments where you’re only going to win, because life just isn’t like that – Bobby Orr