He’s 66 – no wait a minute: It’s Number 4
This can’t be true, can it? The man who changed the way the game is played, defenseman Bobby Orr turns 66 today?
I will hereby concede that he is the most famous product of Parry Sound, Ontario. My long-time broadcast partner and buddy Terry Crisp is second in that regard, by the way.
When I was growing up, the defenseman who controlled the tempo of the game was the Montreal Canadiens’ Doug Harvey. Harvey could slow it down or speed it up in one of two ways. Harvey could magically hold on to the puck; or could lead the attack and then pass it to any of Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Boom Boom Geoffrion.
Doug Harvey’s roots were defense. He never scored more than 9 goals in a season, nor more than 50 points. His NHL career spanned the period from 1948 to 1969, finishing with the St. Louis Blues after some time with the New York Rangers.
Robert Gordon Orr came onto the NHL stage in the last season of the so-called “Original Six” era, in 1966. The publicity that preceded his arrival was incredible. I can only imagine the attention it would have drawn had it happened in this era of social media.
Orr was proclaimed “the Savior of the Bruins” while he was still playing for their junior club in Oshawa. Keep in mind, in the seven seasons before Orr’s arrival, the Bruins failed to even make the playoffs! They didn’t make them his first season, either, but his impact was sudden. He scored 13 goals and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie-of-the-Year.
He would win eight consecutive Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman. Three times he was voted the NHL’s Most Valuable Player (the Hart Trophy). He won two Stanley Cup Playoff MVP’s (Conn Smythe Trophy).
How did he revolutionize the game? He could hold onto the puck, effectively playing keep away like no one else could have imagined. The videos of him in action still leave me breathless.
He is still the only defenseman to ever lead the league in scoring – and he did it twice!
Unfortunately, the surgical techniques known today were not available forty years ago. Bobby had to retire way too early, before any of us were ready. His career officially ended in 1978-79, when he retired from the Chicago Blackhawks (that’s another story altogether).
He is still beloved in the hockey world, particularly in Boston, which gave him an ovation the night his jersey was retired at the Boston Garden in 1979.
The game was cheated by the fact that his career was cut short, but the memories he left us with live in. Happy 66th Birthday to the one and only Number Four – Bobby Orr!