(This story first appeared in the Globe on Oct. 20, 1966)
The National Hockey League’s oldest star paid tribute to the game’s newest star Wednesday evening after the Bruins’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
“He’ll do, for sure,” was the at first reluctant appraisal Detroit’s 38-year-old Gordie Howe made of Boston’s rookie defenseman Bobby Orr.
Starting a record 21st campaign in the league, Howe is hampered by an injured knee which was in a cast during the training season.
Gordie stripped the remains of adhesive from the knee area as he contemplated the Orr performance, and what was more important to him, his own team’s loss.
“The kid’s all right,” the old boy said. “He anticipates well, he makes good passes, and I guess he does just about what you’d expect of a good defenseman.”
Howe could share something of Orr’s feeling last night, because Gordie was 18 himself when he played his first game with Detroit.
There is almost an exact parallel in fact because Howe’s birthday is Mar. 31 and Orr’s Mar. 20.
“I scored a goal in my first game, but we tied,” Gordie recalled, musingly. “And we finished fifth that year.”
Howe had one reservation in his assessment of Orr.
“I’ll tell you a little better,” he said, “when we play better and beat them.”
Gordie wasn’t sure that he felt the same kind of pressure as Orr faced Wednesday night in his own debut in 1946.
“Pressure,” he said, pausing. “I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, there was one big difference, Detroit gave me $250 for signing. What did they give him — $50,000?”
There was one last resort.
“If they don’t want him,” Gordie said. “We’ll be willing to take him off their hands.”
Detroit’s coach Sid Abel, sadly studying a game statistic sheet, had reactions similar to those of his old linemates.
“A good one, no question about it” said Sid. “He has great anticipation.”
That was the keynote word of the Detroit observers — anticipation.
And there was anticipation of a somewhat different kind by Orr himself.
“Sure, I was nervous before this game,” the 18-year-old said. “Even though you didn’t think so, I was. I’m glad it went the way it did. I’m glad we won. That’s the big thing.”
Bobby is not an easy boy to lead into discussion of his accomplishments. He seemed more willing to talk about what he considered an accidental feat. This was on the power play that resulted in the second goal by Wayne Connelly on a tip in of a shot made by Orr.
“I actually fanned on that shot,” Bobby laughed. “I really meant to slap it but I just didn’t get hold of it. I’m glad it got through there.”
Ted Green had praise for his young associate. “I guess he showed them he could play in this league all right,” he said. “If he made a mistake I didn’t notice it. And he played just as well when they shifted him over to the other side on the power play with me.”
This was a real Bobby Orr night for Boston fans, but they proved they weren’t really fickle.
In the early stages, the most solid roar arose when Green appeared for his first turn.
And hanging high up from the second balcony was a large white on green sign which read “happiness is Teddy Green.”