Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr fostered a sports legacy that defined an era.
Orr was the driving force behind the Big Bad Bruins’ four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, but genuine modesty prevents him from emphasizing that truth.
Orr capped one of the finest individual seasons in NHL history when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to beat the Blues 4-3 and secure the Bruins’ first Stanley Cup title in 29 years.
With the NHL season suspended due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Bruins are celebrating the golden anniversary of their Orr-inspired Stanley Cup run.
Their achievement — entrenched in Boston sports folklore — has not been diminished in a half-century.
“It was a very special time for all of us,” said Orr during a Zoom meeting from his winter home in Florida.
“We were in a position now to realize a dream and that was to be on a Stanley Cup winner. I don’t think there were any players on the team that had won a Cup.”
Orr’s compilation of hardware in 1970 included the Hart Trophy as league MVP, the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer, the Norris Trophy as top defenseman and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. Orr was the first defenseman to lead the NHL in scoring.
Orr was the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year at a time when that was an internationally coveted accolade. All that was window dressing to Orr, whose favorite moment was following Johnny Bucyk as he paraded the Stanley Cup along the boards of the old Boston Garden.
“I think of the characters on the team and we didn’t hide away. We were out there in the public,” said Orr. “We had a lot of characters and we had a lot of fun and we played hard.
“The fans knew when they came to a game, they knew they were getting an honest effort from everybody and that came to be expected and we gave it.
“We had a wonderful following and a wonderful group of guys.”
A hockey boom engulfed the region in the aftermath of the Bruins’ Cup run and Orr’s winning goal, an image forever captured in an iconic photograph by Record American shutterbug Ray Lussier.
Hockey rinks opened in Boston and surrounding communities and sporting goods stores had trouble keeping up with demand for skates, sticks and gloves. A pair of Bruins’ black-and-gold stockings were harder to find than disinfectant wipes in a pandemic.
Hockey’s popularity sprouted in the 1970s and has been growing and cutting a wider geographic swath ever since. In Orr’s time, the NHL was primarily populated by Canadians; today it is stocked with Europeans and Americans.
“It’s wonderful the game is growing the way it is and back in the ’70s we didn’t have many European players in our game,” said Orr.
“But hockey has grown all over the world and I think it is wonderful. Back in our day we were aware that rinks were being built and more kids were playing and that was great.
“Back then our guys were out doing clinics and meeting the parents and rubbing shoulders with the people. We loved it and the fans loved it. It was a great thing to be a part of.”
Orr’s unconventional style revolutionized hockey in the same way Muhammad Ali changed boxing’s heavyweight division and Michael Jordan transformed the NBA.
Orr’s length-of-the-ice rushes and ability to finish plays from the back end were so far out of step with the mainstream that he reinvented the position. Orr developed that style as a young Toronto Maple Leafs fan from Parry Sound, Ontario.
Bruins general manager Milt Schmidt brought Orr into the organization at the age of 14. Bruins coach Harry Sinden encouraged Orr to play his style while Schmidt, through trades and homegrown talent, built a team around him.
“They didn’t try to change me and if they were going to try and change me, they would have done it when I was much younger,” said Orr.
“After turning pro, they didn’t try and change me and they thought that was the style of play that was most effective. That’s the style of play I liked playing and I couldn’t imagine sitting back.”