by Ross Atkin)
There’s probably no more Iwo Jima-like image in sports than that of hockey’s Bobby Orr flying headlong over the ice, stick upraised, the instant after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1970. That famous photograph, naturally, graces the cover of Orr’s long-in-coming autobiography, Orr: My Story, written with Vern Stenlund, a former NHL player himself who is now on the faculty of Canada’s University of Windsor.
Orr has had many articles, and even books, written about him over the years, but he says he’s read few of them. He is his own severest critic and made it clear to Stenlund that he’s averse to bragging about his career accomplishments. Although a genuinely modest and private person, Orr committed to telling his story only because now, in his 65th year, he feels he can put things in perspective.
Some consider him the greatest hockey player of all time. Certainly no one doubts that he revolutionized the defenseman position with his rink-length rushes. He led the league in scoring twice. While other defensemen wouldn’t risk getting caught out of position, Orr had the ability to aggressively attack and still get back to protect his own goalkeeper.
In fact, Orr’s famous Stanley Cup goal was scored from point-blank range as he swooped in to take a short pass from Derek Sanderson and flicked the puck past St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall. As Orr remembers, his gamble could have backfired and led to a 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 break for the Blues in sudden-death overtime. Instead, Orr scored his only goal of the Stanley Cup finals on the daring foray only 19 seconds into OT. As he tripped on an opponent’s stick he instantly went into celebration mode, something he generally avoided since he saw it as disrespectful of the other team.
It was big moment for hockey and an even bigger moment for Boston sports. Although the goal really only served to hasten the inevitable in the one-sided series, which ended in a four-game sweep of the expansion-franchise Blues, it secured the Bruins’ first championship in 29 years. And this occurred at a time when the Celtics were entering a rebuilding period, the Red Sox were still seeking an elusive championship, and football’s Boston Patriots were bumbling along in the American Football League team.
The city needed a sports lift, and Orr provided it, leading the “Big Bad Bruins” to the 1970 championship and another two years later. His heroics as a precocious yet experienced 18-year-old (the Bruins had signed him at age 14), made the kid from Parry Sound, Ontario, a local legend. If there were a Mount Rushmore for Boston’s biggest superstars, his visage would be on it, alongside those of Ted Williams, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and Tom Brady. As it is, a statue of him scoring that famous goal was unveiled three years ago in front of TD Garden (the new “Boston Garden”).
While it sometimes appears that Orr’s post-playing career has been spent popping up at various charitable functions, including a fair number of golf tournaments, he’s also been a player agent as president of the Orr Hockey Group since 1996 and the point man of a youth hockey program.
His experiences, including some hard lessons, have informed both activities. He was the first NHL player to hire an agent, Alan Eagleson, and was content to let Eagleson, who became the first executive director of the NHL Players Association, handle all his financial matters. That ultimately proved to be a serious mistake, as Eagleson’s fraudulent dealings plunged Orr into financial difficulties and were one of the reasons Eagleson was convicted and sent to jail.
Along with others former greats, Orr threatened to withdraw from the Hall of Fame if Eagleson wasn’t kicked out, which he was. Orr eventually managed to recover financially, and now, as an agent himself, says one thing his business never does is handle players' money. That, he learned the hard way, is something a player should take more personal responsibility for.