Superman on skates: The aura of Bobby Orr

Superman on skates: The aura of Bobby Orr

When my pal Rob Pizzo asked me to help him out with another look at that goal Bobby Orr scored 50 years ago to win the Stanley Cup, it sparked something in me.

It took me back to a childhood memory.

To the greatest goal I ever saw scored.

By a hero I have been connected to and worshipped most of my life.

WATCH | The Bobby Orr flying goal like you’ve never seen it before:

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the most famous goal in NHL History, Rob Pizzo breaks down why it is still being talked about today. 5:26

I come from Oshawa, Ont., which is the town where General Motors, the automotive giant, is. My grandfather worked on the line at ‘The Motors’, and my grandmother was the secretary to R.S McLaughlin, the man who founded the company in Canada. My uncle Jim worked and sold cars at General Motors dealerships in the area.

It was Jim, my youngest uncle, who first took me to see Bobby Orr play at the brand, spanking, new Oshawa Civic Auditorium on Thornton Road South in 1965.

I was seven and Bobby Orr was 17. It was the year the junior Oshawa Generals would go on to the Memorial Cup final, only to be beaten by the Edmonton Oil Kings.

It was Bobby Orr’s last full season as a junior before he went up to play for the Boston Bruins, the perennial doormats of the NHL. The Bruins had not won the Stanley Cup since 1941 and not made the playoffs in my lifetime.

Couldn’t take your eyes off him

Uncle Jim, who sat beside me in the stands that night with his pal Ted Gibson, a service station owner in Oshawa, said that Orr would somehow turn the Bruins into champions once he got there.

“Pay attention now,” Jim urged as he put his arm on my shoulder and pointed to the ice. “If you’re not watching No. 2, you’re not watching the game.”

That was the number Orr wore throughout his time with the Generals, a team that the Bruins bought and made into a farm club in order to get the phenomenal youngster from Parry Sound, Ont., into their system.

Bobby Orr, as a member of the Oshawa Genrals in 1965. (Photo courtesy Oshawa Generals Hockey Club)

That night, I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he darted and wheeled around the rink. He scored multiple goals and made other guys look good, but rarely flashed a smile as he was not given to over-the-top celebration. He had a brush cut, like most kids did in those days.

He could have been my big brother.

When he got to the NHL as an 18-year-old, Orr took a little time to get rolling. But you could tell he was special, the way he skated and had the ability to accelerate to absolutely blow by his opponents.

He wrapped his stick with a single strand of tape on the blade. I never knew why, but I copied it anyway. My road hockey and house league sticks were replicas of Orr’s.

As he rounded into form he became dominant. I remember going to see him play at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto with my buddy, Ian Davey. The Leafs weren’t as good as they used to be and Orr would, at times, make them look silly.

Scoring at will

The fans booed him relentlessly every time he touched the puck. It’s because he was so good and it was almost as if he became inspired by their phony scorn.

Orr would, while his team was shorthanded, circle his own net and toy with the Leafs’ attackers. Then, when he was good and ready, he would rush past them, weave his way down the ice, and elegantly flip the puck over the goaltender and into the net.

It was like he could score at will. At least that’s what I came to believe.

In the winter of 1969 I found out that Bobby Orr and one of the Leafs, Mike Walton, had a hockey camp in Orillia, Ont., on the shores of Lake Couchiching.  

I just had to get there.

My father successfully resisted my begging for a time.

“You’ll never see Orr,” he reasoned. “It’s only his name on the camp. He’s a star. He’ll never actually get on the ice with you.”

But I was persistent. There were more than a few tears and tantrums and eventually my father relented and signed me up for two weeks in August of 1970.

Bobby Orr chats with youngsters at Orr-Walton Sports Camp in 1970. (Photo courtesy Orr-Walton Sports Camp)

Bobby Orr scored that goal against St. Louis a few months before I was to go to his camp. The details are fresh recollections but the indelible impression he made was flying through the air once the Cup was won.

Just like the superhero that I was already convinced he was.

I immediately sought out a poster of that famous goal. I ordered it from The Hockey News, which I subscribed to, and when it arrived by post, I tacked it up by the locker in my basement where I kept my hockey equipment.

I looked at it each and every day for years after that.

As to the Orr-Walton Sports Camp experience it turns out I was right.

Quality time with a hero

From the get go, there was Bobby on the ice with us every day. He would challenge us to races, give us head starts, and beat us handily as we roared ahead full steam while he glided effortlessly by us skating backwards. 

He would chuckle and wave his stick in our faces as he left us scrambling in his wake.

Bobby Orr with a young camper at Kilcoo Camp in 1976. (Photo courtesy Kilcoo Camp)

Then in the mess hall, he’d sit at our table and ask us questions while we all ate our lunch. He would be there with his skates on but with the laces loosened to reveal he wore no socks in the boots.

We never knew why, but once we saw it, we did it too, just to be like Bobby.

In the evenings he joined us around the campfire before we went to our bunks and to sleep. He patted our heads and figured he might do a little fishing later.

We knew catching fish had always been a passion of his.

Representing Canada was ‘a dream’

The next year, I went to a different camp called Kilcoo, near Haliburton, Ont., because many of my friends and neighbours were going there. It turned out to be the right move because I made many lifelong associations which endure to this day. But also because, at Kilcoo, I first became exposed to the magic of the Olympics, as we staged a mini two-day version of the event every August.

At these Olympics we had running and canoe races. There was a tug of war and a marathon swim but also the majesty of an opening ceremony complete with torches, cauldrons, and flag bearers.

In 1976, because he knew our camp director John Latimer, Bobby Orr came to visit us at the Kilcoo Olympics. By this time, I was a counsellor and the assistant captain of the German team. Our delegation uniforms required me to wear a jaunty hat and mocked-up lederhosen for full effect.

I got my picture taken with Bobby Orr in that crazy getup and stood beside him, speechless to be that close to the great player.

A young Scott Russell, left, with Bobby Orr at Kilcoo Camp in 1976. (Photo courtesy Kilcoo Camp)

Orr was near the end of his career by then because his knees were all but shot. He had left the Bruins to sign with the Chicago Black Hawks and would be playing in the Canada Cup that fall.

He told us that day at the Kilcoo Olympics that it was always his dream to play for Canada and he didn’t get the chance in the 1972 Summit Series because of injury.

I always reflect on what Bobby said that day because later that September, barely able to walk – let alone skate – he went on to lead his team to victory and was awarded the MVP of the Canada Cup.

As a 47 year old, in one of my final appearances on Hockey Night in Canada, I was assigned to go to Parry Sound, Ont., for the Hockey Day in Canada broadcast of 2005.

It was surreal to be going to the home of Bobby Orr. The sad thing was Bobby wouldn’t be there on that day because he was in Boston negotiating a major contract for one of his sports agency’s clients.

‘It’s Bobby Orr calling’

I got over it and had a great afternoon, browsing through the Bobby Orr Museum and interviewing his dad Doug, his brother Ron, and his sister Pat. They even presented me with a Parry Sound hockey sweater with my name and the No. 4 on the back just like Orr wore throughout his career with the Bruins.

Early the following Monday morning the phone rang at my house in Toronto.  

“Hi, Scott, it’s Bobby Orr calling,” the voice on the other end said.

I was more than skeptical thinking it was my best buddy Tim phoning to play a prank on me because he had seen the Hockey Day in Canada spot from Parry Sound on Saturday.

“I just wanted to say I watched the show and was so sorry not to be there, but my Dad said he really enjoyed talking to you and so did Ron and Pat,” Orr continued. “I used to love seeing you on Hockey Night in Canada and I think you do a really great job.”

It was him!

It was, in fact, Bobby Orr phoning me!

We talked for half an hour about the time I went to his summer camp, his memories of Oshawa, the encounter at Kilcoo, and his love of figure skating, because by then I had become the play-by-play announcer for that sport at CBC.

As a sports broadcaster, you can become accustomed to dealing with players and athletes, superstars included. I would never say the experience evolves into something run-of-the-mill but you are able, over time, to find a comfort level.

The exception for me is Bobby Orr.

The iconic photograph of Bobby Orr celebrating his Stanley Cup overtime winner in 1970. (Ray Lussier/Associated Press)

He is the one athlete who possesses an aura which causes me to revert to fandom complete with a sense of wonder which overcomes me to this day.

I have no problem admitting it.

Bobby is my hero.

In my mind, the greatest player who ever lived, and having met him more than once, he turned out to be everything I hoped he would be as a human being.

Fifty years after he scored that famous goal, Bobby Orr remains Superman on skates to me.

Published at Fri, 08 May 2020 12:00:00 +0000