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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Greatest of all time turns 70

By MIKE SHALIN
March 20. 2018 11:05PM
Bobby Orr (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)



The greatest player ever to lace up a pair of hockey skates has turned 70.

Robert Gordon Orr, who revolutionized the great game with a style that hadn’t been seen before nor since, celebrated his 70th birthday on Tuesday.

Think Erik Karlsson, except better.

Now, the thought of Orr being 70 is depressing enough, but the fact his knees kept him from even more greatness is downright sad.

Orr and the big bad Bruins tormented the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. But while yours truly had a rubber chicken with Derek Sanderson’s number on its back hanging from a noose out of the MSG mezzanine (something I laughed about with Sanderson years later), it was hard to hate Orr.

Through Monday, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights was leading the NHL in plus-minus at plus-39. Brad Marchand was leading the Bruins at 31.

Orr led the NHL in 1970-71 at plus-124!

Got to chat with Orr a few times since his playing days and he told me a couple of stories that will stick with me forever.

First, while it appeared St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard tripped Orr on No. 4’s Stanley Cup-winning goal, Orr made it clear he was not tripped after scoring the winner, that he merely flew through the air (he even did that better than anyone) with excitement over winning the Cup.

The other story concerned the Bruins winning the Cup at MSG in 1972, much to the dismay of this then-18-year-old. Orr explained the team needed a police escort to get away from the arena for the ride to the airport, getting them away from irate Ranger fans.

Orr said the escort ended at the Queens Midtown Tunnel. As the cops peeled away from the bus, some of the Bruins waved thanks to New York’s Finest. “One cop gave us the finger as he moved away from the bus,” Orr said.

As far as Orr being the greatest ever, yes, that is a matter of opinion and you can think Gretzky, Howe, Lemieux — all logical choices. Sorry, but I’m sticking with Orr.

Special night

There was only one thing missing from Ryan Donato’s NHL debut Monday night.

A win.

After Marchand, whose reputation hurts him, was hauled down on what could have been a penalty shot but was at least a penalty, the Blue Jackets won the game in overtime. But even that couldn’t dim the luster of Donato’s debut.

A goal. Two assists. A factor every time he was on the ice. Very special.

“During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away,” Donato said. “I mean it kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else, and just kind of the whole situation. At the end of the day. it was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight.

“I mean, (the NHL) is so much faster than what I’ve ever seen but at the end of the day, it’s something that you can get used to. When you’re playing with great players like that it’s something that will come along fast as well.”

A week away

Forget about that weather that may well be going on outside your window as you’re reading this, we get baseball back next Thursday, the Red Sox on the road in Florida for their first six games.

Craig Kimbrel, his daughter’s condition improved, is back in Florida. Starters Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez are progressing and should be ready soon. Dustin Pedroia is champing at the bit to get back and shouldn’t be too long.

Camp has been quiet, a good thing for new manager Alex Cora. It’s all smooth — and the Yankees come to Boston on the first homestand.

Papi defends Boston

Count David Ortiz among those who thinks Boston’s racist label is a thing of the past.

“I never lived in any racial situations in Boston,” Ortiz told the Glass Half Empty podcast. “Boston was a city that loved me, (and) I loved Boston. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the whole city of Boston when a couple of knuckleheads go out there and do something stupid.

“That’s not fair. There’s a lot of good people in Boston. I think that racial barrier is something that’s far behind. I’m not saying that situations are not gonna be out there in cases where people feel that way. But Boston has been way over the racial statement. Me personally, I live in Boston, I lived in a neighborhood where the only black folk was me. Everybody was great to me. Everybody was wonderful to me. I think people need to start seeing and looking at Boston differently than what people say that it was back in the day.”

Clay Buchholz has hooked on with the Royals via a minor league deal that pays him $1.5 million if he makes the team and another $250,000 in potential incentives.

The Red Sox and Yankees are closing in on a deal that will have the rivals playing two games in London next season.

No Sale

Chris Sale was upset with himself after his last outing. Not for the home run he game up but for the two hit batters and three walks.

“One thing that really (ticks) me off is command,” Sale said. “Walking guys, hitting guys with breaking balls. That kind of stuff can’t happen. That’s stupid stuff that kind of gets in the way. Those are the things that kill you: walks and hit by pitches. At least when they’re hitting the ball, they’re earning it. You’ll never know if you’re walking them. Command is the one that kind of gets me the most.”

He did hit 96 on the gun but added: “You want to get better. You’re out there competing. My off-speed stuff wasn’t what it’s usually been. My command was a little off today, but you’re going to have days like that you’re going to have to find a way to get through it. It’s better to have those days down here and work out the kinks and get better from that. I’m sure we’ll address it in the next couple of days.”

Twin speaks

The Patriots finally have the McCourty twins together — for the first time since they were at Rutgers.

“That’s probably one of the most intriguing parts of us teaming back up at this point,” Jason said when asked about playing with his brother Devin all the way from Pop Warner to college. “We went through all those years of playing football together, and now you’re almost a decade later. Through different experiences, you’ve seen the game over the last nine years through two different lenses.

“So it’s going to be really interesting, I think, for both of us to see — sitting in meeting rooms, being on the practice field — how we see things and how differently we see them or how much alike. I think that’s probably going to be intriguing for the coaches, as well. “And I think the one really cool thing is we’re probably each other’s biggest fans and biggest critics, so I’m very interested to see how much we can push each other to become better leaders (and) better players.”

NBA notes

Marcus Morris was fined 15 grand by the NBA for mouthing off at the refs Sunday night. … Isaiah Thomas, via Twitter, left the door open for a return to Boston this summer. Don’t count on that one. … When Draymond Green suffered a pelvic contusion that forced him out of a game the other night, it left the Warriors without all four All-Stars. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were already out. … Finally, Marcus Smart is confident he will return for the playoffs.

College stuff

Old pal Dick “Hoops” Weiss reports URI coach Danny Hurley is talking to both UConn and Pitt about their openings. … Hey, how are your brackets doing? … Villanova is at TD Garden for the East Regional hoping to repeat its 2009 Garden win that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. … We talked here the other day about how Arizona going out early may well have been karma. Then out went troubled Michigan State and North Carolina. And Louisville didn’t even make the field of 68. … Many said Syracuse didn’t belong but Jim Boeheim’s patented zone defense led to three straight wins, holding three teams all averaging 80 a game in the 50s. … Despite all of its internal problems and cheating, NCAA Madness is a treat.

Finally

The NFL appears close to amending what is and isn’t a catch.

“The new catch rule,” NFL exec Troy Vincent told the Washington Post, “will require only that a receiver have control of the football, and any slight movement of the football in the receiver’s hands detected via replay review would not result in an incompletion.

“The new rule will eliminate the requirement that a receiver who is in the process of going to the ground while making a catch must maintain control of the football while on the turf to be awarded a legal catch.”

The new rule would also eliminate the frame-by-frame video replay.

Positive steps that now have to be passed by the owners, but this all makes sense.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


Patriots/NFL Red Sox/MLB Celtics/NBA Bruins/NHL Sports columns