Bobby Orr Q&A: An NHL icon’s life, then and now
Reflections on Grapes, his Cups, this year’s final and THAT goal
National Hockey League icon Bobby Orr fields questions in an interview with The Vancouver Sun on June 13, 2013 in Richmond.
Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG
VANCOUVER — Bobby Orr is often called “the greatest defenceman who ever lived” by his old coach Don Cherry and it's difficult to disagree with Grapes. Orr, now 65, won eight Norris Trophies, three Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythes, and twice led the National Hockey League in scoring (Art Ross Trophy), a feat never accomplished before or since by a defenceman.
In the 1969-70 season, Orr captured four major awards — Hart, Norris, Smythe and Art Ross — as well as scored the Stanley Cup game-winning goal for the Boston Bruins. It was the first of two Cups he won as a Bruin. The following season, he finished plus-124 and had three other seasons where he was plus-80, or higher
Orr's brilliant career was sadly cut short by a series of devastating knee injuries. He entered the league in 1966-67 and his last full campaign was 1974-75, although he didn't officially retire until 1978. In his final four seasons, Orr appeared in just 36 games, the last 26 as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Orr scored 270 goals and added 645 assists for 915 points in 657 regular-season games. He collected another 92 points in 74 playoff games.
He’s in Vancouver this week as part of the Chevrolet Safe and Fun Hockey Program, an initiative he began with General Motors and Hockey Canada in 1999. Orr will be on the ice Saturday at the Richmond Oval along with former women's national team captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall.
We sat down with Orr for a chat about his life, then and now.
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Question: “How did you get involved with the Chevrolet Safe and Fun Program? What inspired you to be a part of this?”
Orr: “I went to General Motors with an idea 14 years ago about doing a program and trying to get a message across for the kids, the parents, the coaches and people who run the leagues that any kid who wants to play, not just hockey but all minor sports, should be able to play in a safe and fun environment. Unfortunately, for some kids, that's not happening. Minor sports in the community is supposed to be fun for everyone, not just for the elite or 'the next one.' The chances of your son or daughter being 'the next one' are slim and none so let's let them have fun. Cassie Campbell, Mike Bossy and I started the Safe and Fun hockey program in 1999. It's for kids 5-8. The two words we use a lot in the program are what we call the two 'Rs' – being respectful and being responsible – and we keep pushing that at the kids. They're young and impressionable and, hopefully, they'll understand what those words mean. They are values you can take and apply to anything you may do.”
Q. “What kinds of things do you do on the ice with the kids? How do you relate to them? Do they even know who Bobby Orr is?”
Orr: “The big thing with kids this age is skating so we do a lot of balance stuff. We have chickens on the ice, we have footballs on the ice, we give them drills and we try to make it fun. We're getting them into what we call the hockey position, you know... bend those knees for your balance and so forth. That's what it's all about. It's not about the trap. We don't teach the trap. I have a blast being on the ice with the kids. I enjoy it. They have no idea who I am, although maybe mom and dad do.”
Q. “Did you watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final? You played 631 regular-season games with the Bruins and 26 for the Blackhawks. Should we assume you are partial to the Bruins?”
Orr: “That's a pretty good assumption. It's going to be a great series and I think it's going to be a long series. Those teams are so evenly matched, they really are. Hopefully Nathan Horton isn't hurt too bad and we'll see what happens there. But the goaltending, the defence... the teams really are even. I'll be going to the games Monday and Wednesday in Boston. I have tickets.”
Q. “You won two Cups with the Bruins, in 1970 and 1972, but the one in '70 is more notable because of the iconic photo where you are flying through the air after scoring the Cup-winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues. What do you remember about the goal and the photo?”
Orr: “The photographer (Ray Lussier), I mean, he got it. Noel Picard was lifting me but I was also jumping because I did see the puck go in. It was in overtime so I knew it was over. It was a different shot. Was it my most exciting moment as a player? Well, it wasn't just the goal. My dream growing up, like most Canadians playing hockey, was to be on a Stanley Cup team. As a kid, I'd remember watching the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs when they won Stanley Cups, skating around with the Cup over their heads. So to be on a Stanley Cup team was pretty special, pretty special.”
Q. “Among your business interests is the player agency you call the Orr Hockey Group, which you've owned since 1996. How directly are you involved? Do you call up GMs to haggle over dollars and cents for your clients?”
Orr: “Oh, I'm pretty involved. I enjoy it. We're not real big. We don't have a lot of players. On the agent side, Rick Curran, Paul Krepelka and Jeff Jackson are with us as well as my son Darren and Rick's son Michael. I don't do the direct negotiations. I recruit. I talk to the guys about contracts. I mean, I talk to GMs but I have guys who do a good job on the negotiating side.”
Q. “Tell me about your granddaughter (Alexis) and your grandson (Braxton). How much time do you get to spend with them? How much are you enjoying that aspect of your life?”
Orr: “They're three-and-a-half and two-and-a-half and I get to see them a lot because they live in Boston. They're both Darren's kids. They're unbelievable. They're entertainment. It's really amazing how much fun they are.”
Q. “Your knees, or bad knees, ended your career prematurely. How are they now? Have you had knee replacement surgery on either knee, or both?”
Orr: “My knees are great. I've had both done. They are fabulous. I can do a lot on them. I ride a bike. I walk. I don't run but I can do a lot. Before I had them replaced, I had a difficult time going upstairs and downstairs. It was very hard. It's an amazing surgery, it really is. I'll skate with the kids in the Safe and Fun Program but it's very light skating. I won't play in any games, though. My balance is a little shaky.”
Q. “Don Cherry was one of your coaches on the Bruins and he's said many nice things about you over the years. Here's your chance for equal time. How good a coach was Don? What was it like playing for him?”
Orr: “Everybody wanted to play for Don. He was fair but he was also tough. He understood your level. He understood what he wanted from you and what you could do. He was a great motivator and he knew a lot more about the game than you might think. He was no bull. You knew where you stood with him and, hey, we were men and that's the way it should be. He loved his players. He was a players' coach. He protected his players. If you did your job and you did it right, there was no problem with Don. But he wasn't going to accept a player who wasn't playing to the level he expected.”
Q. “Is there a Grapes behind the scenes that maybe the public doesn't view. On Coach's Corner, he's often aggressive and loud and, of course, very opinionated.”
Orr: “People have no idea how generous he is. They think he's just this rough, gruff guy. But I know how generous he is and the kind of work he does. Years ago, I took him up to Parry Sound for an Easter Seals skate-a-thon and I took him over to see Grandma Orr before we left town. Grandma was at least 90 then, just a little lady, right? So I said to her, and she didn't see very well: 'Grandma, you know Don Cherry?’ So she came right over to him and she's looking up at him and poking him in the chest and she says to him: ‘I like you. You're the only one who tells the truth.’ Don gives an opinion. That's what he's paid to do. And people listen. They all want to know what's Don going to say.”
Q. “Of the many things you accomplished as a player, and you won so many individual awards, is there one that stands out for you? One that makes you the most proud?”
Orr: “I don't look at goals and those type of individual things. The things I'm most proud of are obviously the two Stanley Cup wins, the 1976 Canada Cup, which was the only time I ever played for Canada in an international series, and being here in Vancouver for the Olympics in 2010, being part of the opening ceremonies and carrying the flag out. That was cool, very cool. I mean, your kids and your grandchildren trump all that but, in terms of sports, those were the highlights.”
Q. “So with your two grandchildren, your two new knees, your business interests and everything else you have going on, it seems life is pretty good for Bobby Orr these days. Is that a fair assumption?”
Orr: “Yes. Life is great. It's going great. The grandkids are great, the knees are great, the business is great. Everyone is healthy. Touch wood. Life is great. Thank you.”
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