Another old game was on the tube the other night, this time from April, 1971, and it involved the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Boston Bruins at Maple Leaf Gardens. But forget about the usual cast of characters. There was only one player to watch, and it was Bobby Orr, in his prime.
The first thing you noticed about Orr is that even though he was a defenceman, he was the most beautiful skater on the ice, a notch above the rest. He would take the puck from behind the Bruins net, wind up, and in only a few strides, it seemed, he was entering Leaf territory, skating like the wind, skating like he was still on a frozen lake back home in Parry Sound, and outskating even the quickest of the quick like Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler.
When Orr bumped into someone, the other went down because Orr was as solid as a rock. His shot was low and accurate. He played the power play, killed penalties, took his regular shifts, and mesmorized at every turn. The Toronto crowd booed him every time he touched the puck, but that’s what happens when you’re a player of his calibre.
Time after time he would rush with the puck, and when the occasion was called for, he would turn sharply, retreat, and start over. The Russians in the 1960’s and ’70’s were known for this, but never did any of them do it at full speed the way Orr did. And for the Russians, it was a practised play. Orr did everything on instinct. He was Michelangelo, Pavarotti, Fred Astaire, and Northern Dancer. He was born to be better than everyone else.
Don Cherry has always maintained that Orr was the greatest ever, and I have no qualms with this statement. He was such a beautiful player who made everyone else look ordinary. What a shame his career was cut short with knee problems. What a shame he didn’t play in the 1972 Canada-Russia series.
And what a shame he never played for Montreal. Imagine.