Toronto Maple Leafs: The Time Bobby Orr Played for the Toronto Marlies

Bobby Orr (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)
Bobby Orr (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs would have loved to have had Bobby Orr in their organization. While that never happened, he did once play for the Toronto Marlies.

Bobby Orr is one of the most iconic names in hockey. He is widely believed to be the best defenseman to ever play the game. He was a trailblazer, a champion and hero to many. While much is known about the legend, most aren’t familiar with the time he laced up in Maple Leafs Gardens and donned the sweater and socks of the Toronto Marlboros, the farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Hall of Fame blueliner played in the NHL for a total of 12 years. He spent ten of those with the Boston Bruins and two with the Chicago Blackhawks. In that time, Orr collected an incredible number of accolades. He won two Stanley Cups, three Hart Trophies, eight Norris trophies, two Art Ross trophies, two Conn Smythe trophies, the Calder Memorial Trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson Award.

Before the nine-time All-Star had the chance to be well decorated and prior to being laid out by the Maple Leafs’ Pat Quinn, he was granted an opportunity to showcase his talent.

Bobby Orr, Toronto Marlies

At age 17 he was a top Junior Hockey prospect for the Oshawa Generals, Orr’s OHA club team. They loaned him to the Marlies and allowed him to play in an important exhibition. Orr hadn’t yet signed his two-year entry contract to the NHL, so this was a chance to perform in front of NHL owners and decision-makers.

The exhibition game took place in Toronto on December 14, 1965. It had the Russian National Team lock up with the Marlboros – Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) Junior A All-Stars. Jim Gregory was the team’s manager and Gus Bodnar coached. The group was comprised of ten players from the Marlies including Gerry Meehan, Brian Glennie, and Jim McKenny.

They OHA roster was rounded out by players from other teams, just like Orr. The Montreal Junior Canadiens loaded the Marlies Serge Savard. The Niagara Fall Flyers sent four players, Derek Sanderson, Don Marcotte, Jean Pronovost, and Ted Snell. The London Nationals allowed the former Marlboro Neil Clarke to play. The Generals not only sent Orr, but also his teammate Danny O’Shea. The Peterborough Petes loaned their two best players Andre Lacroix and Danny Grant. Finally, Joe Bamford, an import from the Lakehead Senior League, rounded out the roster. Many of the players went on to have long NHL careers.

The Soviets were a bigger, better conditioned and more experienced group. They featured players such as goaltender Vyacheslav Starshinov and forwards Veniamin AlexandrovBoris Mayorov and Anatoli Firsov. They were the favorites going into the match, with many not giving the Juniors a chance. This infuriated Gregory who felt that his squad was undervalued.

As it turned out, the analysts were right. The Russians used their strong skating and passing to help defeat the collection of OHA stars. The game itself was as exciting as billed.

The Russians got out to an early lead, scoring less than two minutes into the game. It was Orr, looking dapper with the Marlies’ crown and Maple Leaf on his chest, who managed to get things started for the Juniors. He set up fellow defenseman Ted Snell to even the score at ones.

Before the first period ended, Grant had a rebound goal followed by a snipe by Lacroix to astonish the Toronto crowd. Though they expected to watch the home team get shelled, they instead watched the boys exit the ice after 20 minutes leading by a pair.

OHA’s luck would turn in the second frame. The Russians peppered Bamford in net with 19 shots, scoring one. The Soviets then took the lead in the third period and never relinquished it. Konstantin Loktev scored what turned out to be the game-winner.

Russia finished the game with lockdown defense, securing the 4-3 victory. It was a magical night for all involved and a chance for the hockey world to buzz.

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Unfortunately for Toronto hockey fans, this was the closest they ever got to see Orr in the Maple Leafs organization. One can only dream what the legend could have done in blue and white.