Tag Archives: Bobby Orr

The Boston Bruins, My Father and Me

I’ve been watching the Boston Bruins, in their quest for the coveted Stanley Cup, for the last couple of months. And I could be wrong, but I swear I’ve been watching the games with my father. Which seems impossible, since he passed away away in 1989. But it feels that way. Let me explain.

I’ve been a Bruins fan since I was 10 or 11 years old. With aluminum foil attached to the rabbit ears of our puny television set, I remember watching the Big, Bad Bruins on Channel 38. Through that often snowy, fuzzy VHF TV image I got my first taste of sports legends like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny “Pie” McKenzie and Goaltender Gerry (Cheese) Cheevers. My father and I would watch pretty much every game that was televised, enthralled by the end to end rushes by a Bobby Orr and that incredible scoring machine named Phil Esposito. When the Bruins scored we’d jump to our feet and hoot and holler. When they’d fight we’d yell at the TV, as if they could hear us. For a kid like me, it was heaven on earth to watch the Bruins with my Dad.

My uncle Fran was a Boston police lieutenant, who had the assignment on Bruins game nights to maintain peace and civility at the Boston Garden press entrance. This, my dear reader, was akin to having the key to paradise. Whenever we wanted, including during playoff games, my Day and I would scoot surreptitiously through the old turnstiles and into the old Boston Garden. Oh, what joy!

So even when the games were sold out, we could get in. We didn’t always have a seat, but we could stand behind the last row of the first balcony. I’d often find a couple of seats and sometimes, if folks didn’t show up, we sat in the seats for the entire game. But for a 12 year old kid, just being in the building with such greatness was fantastic. I can remember going down to box seats near the ice before the games to watch the Bruins warm up. Now mind you, these were the days before helmuts, so we could get a really close look at our heroes. Orr, Espo, Ken Hodge, Johnny Pie, Wayne Cashman, Freddy Stanfield, Don Marcotte, and the rest.

But mostly we watched Orr. With his shock of light brown hair, our hero was a sight to see in person. He seemed not to skate, but to fly around and around the ice during warm-ups. He skated faster and shot harder than anyone else on either team. And this was during the warm-ups. When game time came he was even more intense. Night after night after night, Orr carried the Boston Bruins. He was dynamite on ice.

He was the greatest hockey player ever. Period.

My father cheered the Bruins on with an intensity that seemed to sometimes exceed that of the Bruins players. He was incredibly passionate about sports and it showed. When the Bruins would score, he would yell “GOAL!!!” so loudly and the sound seemed to come from deep inside him. It was a guttural sound of glee. In fact, it was so loud, sometimes I’d be slightly frightened by it. That’s how intense he was. And if there was ever a fight, he would holler just as loud.

I remember one Bruins game we attended during which we found seats fairly close to the ice. The Bruins were playing the rival, hated New York Rangers, with their star defenseman Brad Park. Orr, who was so tough nobody would dare challenge him to a fight, was bickering with Park all game. You knew something was brewing (Or Bruin?). Suddenly, near our end of the ice, Orr and Park dropped their gloves and squared off to fight. The refs let them go at it. The two star defensemen hammered away at each other. About halfway through the fight, my father, who was standing already, screamed out, “You get him, Bobby” and I swear to this day that I thought my Dad was on the verge of scaling the Plexiglas and jumping onto the ice to join in the fight. Ha ha ha. I was actually surprised, my Dad wasn’t ejected from the game, along with Orr and Park.

In the 1972 playoffs, when we watched a couple rows back behind the last row of the balcony. The game was tied in when we watched Bruins left winger Ace Bailey (who was tragically killed during 9/11, a passenger on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center) went whipping down the near side. We stood on our toes and saw Bailey’s flash of blond hair as he skated in and scored the winning goal. It was pandemonium inside the old Boston Garden. The Bruins would go on to win their second Stanley Cup in three years. It would also be their last Stanley Cup for 40 years and right up to this final series. But I’ll never forget my father using his best broadcast voice (his dream was to be a sportscaster) to recound Bailey’s goal to me after the game. Good old Ace Bailey…

Hard to believe that was 40 years ago. So many things have changed. I’m older now and have much less hair, and hopefully much more wisdom. The old Boston Garden was the victim of the wrecking ball. It has been replaced by a monolith of a building in the same spot with absolutely no personality, called the “new Garden.” Yeah, sure. And as I wrote, cancer stole my father’s chance to live to an old age. I still miss him all the time.

But the game of hockey has basically stayed the same. There was a fellow named Gerry Cheevers who used to mind the net for the Bruins. He sure was a character. Cheesy would mark his face mask with a magic marker every time he got hit in the face.

Now we’ve got another truly great goalie named Tim Thomas, from Michigan, who pretty much stands on his head to stop every shot that comes at him. He’s truly the best player on the ice every night.

The names have all changes, but the spoked B still stands out proudly in Black and Gold. And tonight the Bruins will play one of the most important games since they first started playing 77 years ago. If they lose, they will have had an incredibly exciting, with a very sad end. And if they win, they’ll have another shot for the cup in Game 7 in Vancouver.

Either way, I’ll be watching. And when the Bruins score (and hopefully they’ll score early and often), my father’s spirit will be sitting next to me, screaming his guts out, jumping in the air, throwing his arms out to me, in victory.

Yes, in sweet, sweet victory. So, for my Dad, and for all the fathers and sons who have similar stories, let’s hope the Big, Bad Bruins win.

Go Bruins!!!!

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My Childhood Hero – #4, Bobby Orr

When I was just a boy, Hockey Fever swept Boston and Boston fell in love with Bobby Orr. My life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of other hockey fans, would never be the same.

This “Fever” of which I speak happened in the late 1960s and coincided with the arrival in Boston of a young man named Bobby Orr who would begin a seven-year, injury-shortened love affair between fans and one extremely talented athlete.

If you lived in the Boston area in the late 1960s, Bobby Orr was akin to the second coming. The blond skating and scoring sensation grew up in Parry Sound, Ontario (about 2 hours north of Toronto and, what seems on the map like a million miles away from Boston.) It is said that Boston Bruins scouts were on a trip to Canada to check out a couple of other players when they happened to spot Orr and decided that day that he would someday wear a Boston Bruins jersey. After courting the Orr family for about a year, the Bruins organization did just that. They convinced 14-year-old Bobby and his parents (especially a reluctant, protective mother) to sign on the dotted line in the kitchen of an ugly old home next to the railroad tracks, not far from the frozen rivers and ponds on which Orr had been skating and playing “shinny” hockey for the previous 10 years.

If the Bruins front office could have had their way, they probably would have had Orr playing for the franchise team in Boston the next night, but in the NHL you had to be 18 to play in the big leagues, so Orr played for several years on the minor league Oshawa Generals, a mere child competing against players much older than he was.

Finally, at the ripe old age of 18, with the eyes of an entire city on him (the hype was incredible), Bobby Orr arrived in Boston. And not long after that, with the acquisition of several other great players including a scoring machine named Phil Esposito, the Boston Bruins were suddenly a contender for the Stanley Cup and Bobby Orr became my full-time obsession.

My bedroom walls were covered with Bobby Orr posters and articles I had read over and over about the young superstar. Orr seemed to have it all. He had winning good looks, a gentlemanly, shy manner, and, most impressively, he could skate circles around every other player in the league. My uncle was a Boston Police lieutenant and he would often be assigned to details at Boston Garden which meant that he would allow my father, also a huge hockey fan, and I to walk past the press gates. We didn’t have seats and often had to stand behind the last row of the first balcony inside the old Boston Garden, and occasionally old eagle eye, yours truly, would spot a pair of open seats and drag my dad to go sit in them. And sometimes we didn’t get kicked out.

But whether I was watching the Bruins play in person or on television, my eyes were transfixed on Orr. He was so fast and had so many different moves, faking and deking the opposition out of position to line up a slapshot from the point. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching a man who literally changed the way the game was played. Orr turned hockey from a defensive game into an offensive one and it was great to watch. Orr was so good his first year in the league that he won the NHL Rookie of the Year award. But he also hurt his knee that first year, suffering an injury that would limit both his playing time and shorten his career.

But nobody was thinking about Orr’s knee injury on May 10, 1970. It was a warm, spring day in Boston and about 50 of my relatives gathered at my Aunt Babe’s house (yes, Babe was really her nickname) where we witnessed what everyone agrees is the most incredible and famous goal in hockey history. The Bruins were up 3 games to none against the St. Louis Blues in the finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston hadn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, some 29 years earlier.

When the game went into overtime, the tension grew. Thinking back to that day, it seemed like we all knew what was about to happen. Just 40 seconds into overtime, Boston Bruin player Derek Sanderson, who was standing just behind the opposing net, passed the puck to a streaking Bobby Orr. Orr shot the puck between Blues goalie Glenn Hall’s pads to win the game and the championship. A millisecond after the shot, as Orr skated away with his arms and hockey stick raised to mark the win, he was upended by an opposing player. Bobby Orr went into flight and for a second seemed truly superhuman. The picture of Orr flying through the air is planted in my mind as firmly as anything else from my childhood. Needless to say, the entire living room at my Aunt Babe’s erupted in celebration, as did the city of Boston for the next three or four days. It was truly something else. A young boy’s dream had come true.

A few years later my father told me that he was taking me to Toronto during summer vacation. There we would see the Hockey Hall of Fame, do some other sightseeing and possibly make the trip in our rental car to Parry Sound, Ontario, to see the town where Bobby Orr came from.

On our way to Parry Sound we stopped at Orr’s hockey camp. Orr was there and I was thrilled when he autographed a magazine and posed for a photo. Meanwhile, my always gregarious father introduced himself to Bobby Orr’s father, Doug, and the two men began talking. My dad mentioned that we were going to be visiting Parry Sound, and Doug Orr invited us to stop by the house. Let me repeat that. Bobby Orr’s father invited us to stop by the house. When I found out, I couldn’t believe it. Things became even more surreal after we got to the Orr household, were warmly greeted (Bobby wasn’t there) and given a tour of the basement where the family kept a trophy case, which must have been at least 25 feet long, filled with trophies and pucks and other mementos. Before we left, Doug Orr gave us a couple of Bobby Orr coffee mugs, “gifts from the Orrs.” Over the years, one was broken (knocked off the wall during puck shooting practice in my cellar), but I still have the other one. My most prized possession!

Years went by, and I remained a huge fan of Bobby Orr. I even started to play the game. When Orr was forced to retire because of his injured knee, my heart was broken, and when they paid tribute to him and retired his number at the old Garden, I wept along with thousands of other Bostonians.

Bobby Orr was, in my opinion, the greatest hockey player who ever played the game. The images of him skating the length of the ice and scoring goals are forever etched in my memory.

He was my hero.

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