The voice on the other end of the telephone line is unmistakably Bobby Orr’s and, true to form, he is telling a story in his usual self-deprecating manner. Orr may be one of the greatest hockey icons Canada ever produced, but throughout a career that lasted just 12 years and saw him inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame at the precocious age of 31, he was known for both his modesty and his unflinching desire to stay out of the spotlight. Orr may look like the poster boy for Bob Dylan’s song Forever Young, but on Wednesday he will celebrate a milestone birthday. Ladies and gentlemen, No. 4 in your Boston Bruins program is turning 65.
Yes, unbelievably, the (still) fresh-faced kid from Parry Sound, Ont. is about to become a pensioner.
Orr guards his privacy carefully even after all these years and so it is not surprising that the first anecdote he spins in a far-ranging conversation is all about the joys of anonymity.
“I’ll tell you a true story that happened the other day,” said Orr, chuckling as he gets rolling. “We had a mixed member-guest-couples event at our golf course and I’m walking down the corridor to the men’s locker room and there was a board set up there, listing all the teams. A couple of ladies were standing there and saw my name, and I heard one say, ‘oh, he’s an old hockey player.’
“I looked at them and was thinking, ‘Old hockey player? Yeah, you’ve got that right.’ But the age thing, it doesn’t bother me. Life is great.”
For hockey fans of a certain age, there are two images inextricably linked to Orr. The first dates back to when he was the new kid on the NHL block, the teenager with the brush cut who joined the Boston Bruins in 1966 and in very short order, stood the NHL world on its ear. The second is of Orr, in mid-flight, tripped by defenceman Noel Picard, scoring the winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues to complete a sweep of the 1970 Stanley Cup final, the first of two championships he would win.
Orr helped revolutionize the game of hockey, with his ability to create offence from defence and influenced generations of players that came after him. There are many who believe he is the greatest player ever. Officially, Orr played only 657 NHL games over 12 seasons because of a series of debilitating knee injuries that prematurely ended his career, but he still scored an astonishing 915 points in that time – remarkable for any player, unprecedented for an NHL defenceman. Orr won eight consecutive Norris trophies as the NHL’s top defencemen from 1968-1976). In addition, he won three Hart Trophies as NHL’s MVP and is still the only defenceman in league history to win the Art Ross trophy as the NHL’s scoring leader (he did it twice, in 1970 and 1975).
A few years back, Orr’s battle-scarred left knee starred in Mastercard commercial, which traced every incision back to a career-defining moment. Knee concerns figured greatly in his career, starting almost from the moment Orr arrived in the NHL. He won the Calder Trophy in 1967, but was already dealing with the after-effects of the comparatively primitive surgical techniques of that time. By the time Orr played for Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup, he was limping before the games, limping after the games, but still played well enough to win the tournament MVP award. Orr completed his career with the Chicago Blackhawks,but played in only 26 games over a three-year period. By then, he’d undergone a dozen operations and played a significant portion of his career with damaged ligaments and torn cartilage.
Age is only a number if you have your health, but the good news, according to Orr, is since his knee replacement surgery, his health is pretty good.
“I mean, I have some aching in my knees and a little balance problem, but I don’t have any serious pain any more in my knees,” he said. “I get stiff and achy like most people who are 65. I have a little hand problem. I had a little surgery on my hand in November. My body’s been through a lot, but I don’t feel sick. Just aches and pains. Like most of us, I should probably exercise more. Overall, I’m thrilled.”