From the day 18-year-old Bobby Orr accepted a $25,000 signing bonus to play for the Bruins in 1966, he’s been known as a nice guy.
He let others rave about the way he changed the way people thought about a defenseman’s role. He shrugged, smiled, and played great hockey in Boston until the surgeons could do no more for his knees. Then he went to Chicago and tried unsuccessfully to play a little more.
“Orr: My Story’’ celebrates hard work and passion as the fuel for reaching your goal, whatever that goal may be. Though he’d been a phenomenal player at every level, Orr claims that “it was never a lock” that he would make the Bruins. “I was far from a shoo-in,” he writes. “[A]nd I didn’t have a clue what awaited me if I didn’t make the NHL roster.”
Orr begins his story in his tiny hometown of Parry Sound, Ontario, a few hours north of Toronto, where he enjoyed a pleasant and unexceptional childhood, influenced and encouraged by a few hockey coaches and appreciative of the love and support of his parents. “I think that their core values and basic sense of family and community insulated them and their children from a lot of potential trouble.’’ Orr celebrates the way his parents supported him without pushing him or burdening him with their expectations.
He then takes the reader through his career in a series of chapters beginning with his rookie season in Boston, through the glory years of the late 1960s and ’70s, and finally the end of his playing days and his second career as a corporate spokesman. He caps the book with his take on the current state of the game and his suggestions for ways that hockey could be made better and safer for players from peewee to pros.
Make no mistake, this is no barbed tell-all, but then that isn’t Orr’s style. For most fans there will be little that will surprise, but some of the details are likely to delight.
Orr celebrates his teammates and characterizes some of his opponents (Detroit’s Gordie Howe, for example) as his heroes. In one representative episode early in his career, after the much larger Howe has knocked him to the ice with an elbow, Orr urges his teammates to refrain from retaliation. “It’s OK, guys,” he tells them. “I deserved that.”
Orr does include one story about “an encounter I have never disclosed.” A day after he’d been blindsided and knocked unconscious by Pat Quinn of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the playoffs in 1969, Orr was approached in the lobby of the team’s hotel by “a rather tough looking ‘gentleman’ ” who asked, “Do you want me to take care of Pat Quinn?”
Orr passed on the offer and never saw the “tough looking gentleman” again.
Aspiring hockey players will learn here that playing 10-on-10 on a pond is an excellent way to master puck control: The more people are trying to take it away from you, the better you get at keeping it.
Orr’s career was cut short by knee injuries and multiple surgeries, but he writes that he considers himself a very fortunate man. Besides feeling that the Bruins teams for which he played should have won another Stanley Cup or two, he has few regrets, though one does bear mentioning.
Orr devotes a chapter to his relationship with Alan Eagleson, whom he trusted as a friend, mentor, and agent. Such trust, Orr writes, “is a rare and precious thing . . . [and] Alan Eagleson turned even trust as great and rare as that into something foul and regrettable.”
Eagleson betrayed and cheated a lot of people, and eventually went to prison for it, but his victimization of Orr was especially heinous. The ever-faithful Orr defended Eagleson even after many NHL players had recognized him as a fraud, and extricating himself from Eagleson and the mess he’d made of Orr’s finances (“[H]e had left me practically broke”) proved difficult and ruinously expensive.
Beyond that, as Orr tells the story, it was Eagleson’s self-serving misrepresentation of the offer Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs made to Orr that accounted for his decision to join the Chicago Blackhawks rather than finish his career in Boston, which is how everyone who ever saw him electrify the crowd in the old Garden knew it should have happened.
But in the end, Orr concludes, “The good times during that era are what I choose to remember.''
No surprise there.
Bill Littlefield hosts NPR’s “Only a Game.” He is writer-in-residence at Curry College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.