Bobby Orr sat down with The Globe and Mail this week to talk about his new book, Orr: My Story. The Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman who won Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins in 1970 and 1972 has opened up for the first time about his life, his career and what he thinks about the way the game is played today.
Why write a book now, after you’ve resisted so many times?
I’m getting up there. I have been asked quite a bit, and have not wanted to do one because I didn’t want to do a book just to do a book.
But one day, out playing golf with my friend Vern Stenlund who helped me with the writing, and said, ‘Let’s do a book.’ He’d been on me before to do one. It was just time.
We spent the next eight months fiddling with it before we went to a publisher.
Was it a difficult process for you?
It was. It wasn’t easy. But it was fun.
Was it difficult to recall and write about disgraced former NHLPA head Alan Eagleson?
Yeah. I’m fine with it now though. It’s been a long time. Obviously, I was hurt. He was like a brother. He ... was not a nice man. He hurt a lot of people. And shame on him.
A lot of people wondered why I didn’t sue him. I just wanted to get away from him, I didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer, and I would have had to do it here.
It took the U.S. government almost five years to get him to come there and fight the charges.
It was an awful time in my life. But things are great today.
What do we do about fighting in hockey?
There’s no reason for a fight or a scrum unless someone does something silly. That’s my greatest fear of taking it out of the professional game – minor hockey, no place. But in the pros, without it a lot of guys are going to get brave.
And the fear of getting beat up if you do something you shouldn’t is a great deterrent. We have players on every team who are finesse players and don’t play physically. Bump them, grind them, get in their way, but don’t try to intimidate them.
Staged fighting? Throw that out. Do we want our skill players playing or do we want them in the penalty box? Do we want them in the hurt? I want them playing. Some pretty nasty work goes on sometimes. But we’re not barbarians either.
That’s what they’re going to call us, but that fear of getting beat up will keep everyone settled down. We’ll still have our contact.
How does the NHL keep fighting in check?
Call the penalties properly. There are occasions where the more physical players go after the skill players who don’t play like that. Just call it.
The referee should have the discretion. Penalize it, but keep the contact.
We’re a tough sport. We’re a physical sport. Just take out the foolishness. It’s a new era, there’s a new fan we’re trying to attract that doesn’t want to see that. I don’t want to see our skill players running for cover or having to defend themselves.
There are things we probably did, if we did them today we’d be put in jail.
What about concussions?
It starts in minor hockey. Parents, coaches, officials, trainers, owners all have to work together to control what goes on on the ice. At the pro level, the rule changes have opened the game up, made it a little more dangerous. The players are big, the speed, you have to be aware of where you are on the ice.
We have to get rid of high, blind-side hits. Hybrid icing is wonderful. But they added four feet to the offensive zone, and that’s a lot in hockey.
These guys are big and there’s so much room. I’m not saying change the rules, but that’s what is happening with some of our injuries.
How has officiating changed since you played?
Officials are doing a pretty good job. But it’s cut and dry. It can’t be, with the size the speed, everything going on on the ice. The ref has to be given more discretion and they haven’t been given that, by order.
If you were NHL commissioner for a day?
I’d put the centre line back, make the players use their skills more. Taking it out has opened the game up, and in the beginning it increased the offence a lot, but coaches just coach around that stuff.
I’d deal with unnecessary hitting. Do you ever watch a game and see how much unnecessary hitting there is? Coaches tell players to finish their checks. There are so many unnecessary hits, blind side, from behind. Clean that up.
We’re going to have injuries. We can’t get away from it with all speed, size, strength, pucks, sticks, skates, ice, boards. But foolish injuries are what we have to look at. To give the league some credit, they’re doing a lot better job with suspensions and fines.
What did you think of San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl, who was recently criticized for his flashy goal on New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron?
When I first watched it I thought, ‘Wow! What a goal.” But he didn’t know [he might be showing up the goalie]. He’s 19 years old. But he won’t do it again.
What upset everybody was the score. It was way out of hand. I don’t think the kid knew he shouldn’t [try a trick goal]. He’d already scored three [in that game]. Pretty good player.
Do you have advice for parents who are sure their child will play in the NHL?
Leave the kids alone. Players who are never drafted become stars. Let your kids enjoy. If they’ve got it, they’ll get a chance. Let them have fun and passion for the game.
If your kid keeps that love and passion, he’s got a chance. But only a chance. The chances of them being pros are really pretty slim.
Who are your favourite players to watch?
Sidney [Crosby]. A few years ago, I watched a Pittsburgh practice and who do you think was the hardest working person on the ice? His injuries, it’s killed me to see him [last season] not playing and injured. I like him because every shift, he’s up here consistently. But he should have a John Ferguson [tough guy to defend him].
Who will win the Stanley Cup this year?
Chicago’s still strong. Boston is pretty good, and I’m saying that not with my heart. Pittsburgh’s not bad. Colorado and St. Louis are pretty good, too.
What about the 2014 Olympic gold medal?
It’s going to be a tough tournament, but Canada.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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