At age 18 Orr made his NHL debut with the Bruins in 1966. As a rookie he scored 13 goals, a huge total for a defenseman in those days, in 61 games. Two seasons later Orr collected 21 goals in 67 games. Starting in 1969-70, when the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1940-41, Orr’s goal totals the next six seasons were 33, 37, 37, 29, 32 and 46. His points total topped 100 four times during that span.
His awesome career totals were 270 goals, 645 assists and 915 points in 657 games.
The cover photo on the book appropriately his overtime Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1970 against St. Louis. With an understandably elated expression Orr is sailing head first through air. It was his only goal in the finals; however, in 14 playoff games that year Orr scored nine goals.
Major knee problems forced Orr to prematurely retired at age 30. As the Flyers beat writer for the Philly Daily News, I recall covering a Flyers-Chicago Blackhawks game at the old Chicago Stadium when Orr was finishing his career playing for the Blackhawks. The press box was at one end of the arena. As Chicago gained possession of the puck and launched an offensive, I looked over at the left side boards and saw Orr attempting to stand. He had to lean on the boards to help him stand. I pointed to Orr and said to the sports writer next to me, “Look at that.” It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen in sports.
When the Bruins retired Orr’s No. 4 in January 1979, I was in Boston Garden covering a Bruins game vs. a Russian team. The Garden press box was along the front of the second tier: it was so low we always felt we could reach out and whisper to the players. During the ceremony, when a Bruins official presented Orr with his black-and-gold No. 4 sweater at center ice, I remember adult male fans in seats behind us pleading, with tears streaming down their faces “Put it on! Put it on (one more time)!” Orr obliged as thunderous cheers swept the old building.
I was curious to read Orr’s thoughts on Alan Eagleson, the one-time hockey power broker who eventually spent 18 months in prison for embezzlement and fraud. Seems like a light sentence for someone who did so much damage to many people. Eagleson has been shamed though as he resigned his Hockey Hall of Fame membership, his Order of Canada was revoked and he was disbarred from the legal profession in Canada.
Eagleson rose to a person of tremendous influence as a player agent in the late 1960s. He was Orr’s agent while the puck-rushing defenseman played for the Bruins. Eagleson also was responsible for staging the Canada Cup, an international event that matched Team Canada against the formidable Russian hockey team.
Orr doesn’t pull punches regarding his feelings toward Eagleson, whom he believes betrayed him and other top NHL players. Orr writes that Eagleson became power crazed and mistreated people. According to Orr, he signed with the Blackhawks, for $500,000 annually, because Eagleson never told him the Bruins had offered Orr a piece of the team to keep him in Boston.
For those of us who covered the Flyers in the 1970s and later, we’ll never forget the Flyers clinching their first Stanley Cup in 1974 against Orr and the Bruins. Orr only devotes one page to the ’74 series, probably because he refers to the setback as “a bitter disappointment.”
A Pat Quinn anecdote in the book also stands out. Later on, Quinn was a successful coach with the Flyers. But Quinn is remembered in Boston primarily for his crunching hit on Orr during a playoff game in 1969. As Orr relates it, the Bruins were leading Quinn, a linebacker-sized defenseman, and his Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-0, when Quinn leveled his check that resulted in a concussion for Orr.
After Orr was released from an overnight hospital stay, he walked into the hotel where the Bruins were staying. A “gentleman” approached Orr and said in a low voice, “Do you want me to take care of Pat Quinn?” The shaken Orr replied he would take care of Quinn himself. Orr says he never saw the menacing guy again.
There are plenty of photos in the book that should warm the hearts of Boston fans. One stood out to me: Orr, Ted Williams and Larry Bird together, holding their uniform jerseys. The memorable photo reminded me of a photo I arranged for a Philadelphia Daily News “Philly’s sports greats” special section: Julius “Doctor J” Erving, Joe Frazier, Chuck Bednarik, Tom Gola, John Chaney and Harry Kalas gathered outside Erving’s statue at the Spectrum (Alex Alvarez was the photographer). The six distinguished gentlemen all seemed pleased to be in each other’s company. I know I was delighted to be with them.
Orr’s book also includes his thoughts on the state of hockey and parental involvement in youth sports. Regrettably, Orr doesn’t mention veteran Bruins beat writers such as Fran Rosa and Tom Fitzgerald nor Nate Greenberg, the Bruins’ superb public relations director. We’ll forgive that oversight: I give the book a WWR: well worth reading.