It’s hard to imagine getting to a point in life in which you look back and see all of the spaces filled in so nicely. Some experiences good, some bad, some indifferent, but all part of a fabric telling the story of who you are and what you mean to the world. In the sport of hockey, the city of Boston, and the nation of Canada, has any one person played a larger role than one Bobby Orr? If you ask most in the hockey world, most would not hesitate to call him the greatest defenseman to play the game. Some have even suggested that the Norris Trophy being named after Orr is only a matter of when, not if. After reading his book, if you ask him what he meant to the hockey world, the answer would contain considerably less bravado.
Orr comes across in this autobiography the same as he does almost always: reserved, yet confident. The defenseman that would change forever how the position is played repeatedly states that he was not looking to pioneer in any way a new type of hockey, he just wanted to skate because it was his best attribute. The book is filled with stories of his youth spent skating and fishing north of Ontario, his time in junior hockey, and his careers in hockey as a player, broadcaster and agent over the past half-century.
If there is one regret I take from this book, it is that the eight-year-old version of myself can’t sit down and read it. Being a kid has its benefits, but what a scary world that this place can be when you are young. If in life any of us can find the passion that Orr speaks of when he played hockey, life would be a success. His enthusiasm when recalling his youth spent on the pond; his talk of feeling lost after his knee finally forced him to leave the game; and his excitement at being able to help a younger generation learn how to manage the parts of life that he was only taught through awful experience all paint a picture of a guy that truly understands what it means to live a good life.
Orr’s accomplishments in hockey are well-publicized (a Calder Trophy, eight Norris Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, three Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two Stanley Cups, a Canada Cup, etc…), but to read him write with such humble tones is simply awesome. There are a great deal of athletes, hockey players included, that are happy to induct themselves into greatness for the most ordinary of achievements. Orr is actually the inverse of this, having earned the right to pound his chest a bit, he simply deflects most of the credit in anything that he accomplished to teammates, parents, billets, friends, or anybody that happened to play a part. If you can learn nothing else from reading this book, the art of humility is displayed plainly for the world to see.
The book is typical of most biographies that are offered from professional athletes in that it offers many stories from the “good old days”, and recounts some memories that are not so pleasant. What is missing in Orr’s book which has become customary in most publications written by celebrities was the big reveal. No drug addiction is acknowledged, there were no extramarital affairs that nearly shook him to his roots, the only semi-controversial subjects raised were those that are almost completely public knowledge (Alan Eagleson scandals, Derek Sanderson drug and alcohol issues). Orr comes across not much different from how he did before the book in that he seems to be just a wholesome Canadian guy that loved his parents, fishing and hockey. This is not to say the book is not worthwhile, as the stories told simply could not be done justice by anybody else. This was not a fourth-liner looking to cash in on locker room stories, or drop bombshells on any controversy that may squeeze in a few more nickels. This was a guy that loves hockey telling his story.
As for the Toronto Maple Leafs links in the book, chapter three should be avoided by the diehard fans. Having scouts discount the greatest offensive defensemen to play the game because he was only eight years old, while he was being scouted by every other team in the league might make some snarl. Bearing in mind the Leafs of this time were in the middle of a dynasty that would net four Stanley Cup championships, the ownership situation over this decade as well as the conflict within the Leafs Board of Directors and the Smythe family, it was no surprise Orr, as well as many others, were simply not noticed. The book is a great read, is available at amazon.com in both print and for the kindle, and can be purchased at most bookstores across the United States and Canada
Orr: My Story G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York
The Lives of Conn Smythe: From the Battlefield to Maple Leaf Gardens, Kelly McParland,