Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Orr shoots from the lip... HE SCORES!

No. 4's memoir gives great insight into spectacular hockey career

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The most iconic image in all of hockey is the "airborne goal" scored by Bobby Orr to win the 1970 Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins.

The photo captures all the elements of Orr's prodigious talent and the game's appeal: awe-inspiring athleticism; the intensity of sport; and the ecstasy of scoring.

There's also an irony to that moment. Orr was a humble, self-effacing and modest athlete: typically when he scored, he skated back up ice, head down and resumed his position on the blue line. No gaudy celebrations, no, "Look at me!":

That was part of the way he was raised, and it's the real subject of this direct and revealing memoir. As he says, it's not a chronicle of trophies and statistics, but a record of "how I got there, who I met along the way and what I learned from them."

As anyone who witnessed his abbreviated 10-year NHL career knows, Orr is straightforward, honest and modest.

Now 65, he recounts the wonder of the game he played since he was little more than a toddler, but equally he documents the sacrifices made for children to become elite athletes.

Orr left his close family in Parry Sound, Ont., at 14 to play for the Oshawa Generals.

He did not know every Friday after he left for Oshawa, "my mother and sister Pat would stand outside our house and cry." They did not know he spent many a Friday night crying himself to sleep.

It's a book full of such sentiments: Orr's devotion to his wife and children; his sadness at the deaths of friends; and his heartache at retiring from knee injuries in 1978 at age 30.

Those are moving moments, told with sincerity and candour.

Orr is no great psychologist, nor is he a very astute reader of personality. He never asks the questions: Why was hockey so important to me? What in me needed to succeed that much, to suffer that greatly?

He assumes it was just natural, the way things were meant to be. And his friendship with Don Cherry has blinded him to Grapes's xenophobia and partiality, however generous he may be to people he befriends.

What comes across in his book is that Orr is a simple guy who grew up on a diet of solid values and has maintained them throughout his life, passing them on to his own two boys and thousands of children he has met through his post-career enterprise, Safe and Fun Hockey, which teaches kids about the importance of respect in the game.

He's hardly to blame for his slight character limitations. He never finished high school; he spent his formative years in locker rooms with good-hearted men whose resolve was matched only by their close-mindedness.

They weren't deep thinkers. In consequence Cherry is praised as a man who "will not change his opinions to suit other people," but this quality also defined Pinochet, Stalin and Hitler.

What a person thinks is as important as how committed they are to their beliefs, a subtlety missing in this book.

Fortunately, that's not what's really important in My Story. We're given insight into a great athletic career, and though he doesn't make much of it, we hear how Orr changed the game.

Before No. 4, defencemen were confined to playing defence: arresting opponents as they entered the zone, clearing the front of the goal, then passing the puck ahead to forwards. They resembled the figures in the old table-top hockey games: fixed to their positions. There was no crossing the other team's blue line.

Orr changed that. Recognizing that a skater moving up ice behind the play, so to speak, could not only read gaps in opponents' ice coverage, but could also employ sudden bursts of speed to penetrate their zone, he changed the defenceman's role from stolid defender to dazzling fourth attacker.

The game became faster; an element of thrilling risk accompanied his bold forays up ice. The game opened up and became more exciting -- no small accomplishment for a humble kid from Parry Sound.

Orr's legacy lives on. He was not only a great player but a gentleman on and off the ice. On TV his integrity shines through.

His commitment to safe hockey for kids warms people's hearts. The best defencemen in the game are Orr imitators. The game's best spokesmen model themselves on his honesty and uprightness. His contribution to the image of hockey has been peerless.

It's wonderful to hear Orr's personal voice ruminating over his own career and the state of the game today.

There's a twinge of sadness remembering how he descended from exultant Bruin to beaten-down Black Hawk. It's hard not to share the anger he feels over his betrayal by his agent Alan Eagleson.

My Story outlines a gripping personal record: tracing the arc from stunning rookie phenom to defeated hero. The story is moving. It's a book that devotees of sport have to have on their bookshelves.

Winnipeg novelist and editor Wayne Tefs's inquiry into the return of the Jets, On the Fly, was released in the fall of 2012.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 A1

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