For fans of the Boston Bruins, there are two types of hockey players—Bobby Orr and everyone else. A product of Ontario—Parry Sound in Georgian Bay, to be precise—Orr ignited his hockey destiny the moment he laced up his first pair of skates. Bostonians, fiercely loyal, welcomed Orr in 1966 with a storm of applause, adoration, and acclaim. Hockey writers, too, noted Orr’s excellence with the Calder Memorial Trophy—the award for the “most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”
Orr, he of the destructible knees and indestructible fortitude, soon became a legend. When No. 4 took the ice, the Boston Garden shook with promise of victory. In his first season, Orr helped lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers. It resulted in a loss; nevertheless, the Bruins won hockey’s greatest honor twice during the Orr era, which ended after the 1975-76 season. Orr shot the winning goal in overtime against the St. Louis Blues to capture the Stanley Cup for the 1969-70 season.
After two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Orr retired after the 1978-79 season with 264 career goals, 624 career assists, and a collection of trophies marking excellence.
Orr’s boyish grin off the ice and steely exterior on it imprinted the kid from Parry Sound with a stamp reading “legend” in hockey annals.
When a legend gets injured, fans worry.
When a legend gets disparaged, fans defend.
And when a legend gets mistreated on the field of play, fans react. Violently, sometimes. Such was the case on January 24, 1974 in a Bruins-Blackhawks game. With less than a minute to go, defenseman Bill White stuck out his stick, tripped Orr, and began a wave of protest not seen since the nation’s forefathers dumped tea into Boston Harbor. White’s action was purposeful, as clear as a cloudless sky on a spring day at Fenway Park. At least according to the Boston Garden crowd, it was.
Orr, in a protest that could be heard in the parking lot, confronted referee Wally Harris, who acted promptly—he gave Orr a 10-minute misconduct penalty. White, on the other hand, received no penalty. Bruins fans, in turn, showed their displeasure by throwing garbage onto the ice. It took a little more than 30 minutes to clean the ice, cool tempers, and resume the game. “I’ve been through a few things like that,” said Blackhawks centerman Stan Mikita, whose views were documented in the media, including, of course, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe. “But never as bad as this. I never thought it would happen in Boston. But it shows how people can get when the big man (Orr) gets flattened. They want blood.”
Chicago sportswriter Bob Verdi posed a whiff of indictment against Orr in the Tribune. “On the particular play, White dropped to the ice and knocked the puck away from Orr with a reaching stick sweep,” wrote Verdi. “Orr’s momentum then carried him into contact with White’s right arm and stick. There’s no way to prove it, but it looked as tho [sic] Orr was trying to force the penalty; he looked like Stan Mikita taking one of his famous swan dives. Mikita, tho [sic], is more convincing.”
Alas, the Boston press felt differently about the penalty. A Globe editorial stated, “Television reruns of the play made it clear what ignited the violence, but surely no one can believe that it was worth endangering the physical safety of the men on both teams or the officials to vent that fury.”
If a game has less than 10 minutes before completion, the player’s time off the ice for the 10-minute misconduct penalty amounts to time served—the outstanding time will not be carried over, either to the next game on the schedule or the next game against the opponent.
The Blackhawks beat the Bruins 2-1. But it was not the score that exhausted the crowd wearing Bruins paraphernalia to indicate their chosen team of worship, a trait designed by geography during one’s formative years, except in occasional instances. It was treachery against a favorite son responsible, in Jupiterian fashion, for two Stanley Cups. Treachery that pierced the hearts of college students in Cambridge; of cultured millionaires on Beacon Hill; of nature lovers in Boston Common; of civil servants at the Massachusetts State House; of gardeners in Brookline; of contractors in South Boston; of cab drivers ushering passengers to and from an airport named Logan; and of MBTA subway conductors.
A victory unites Bostonians of every stripe in society. A betrayal, even more so.