Just how good was Bobby Orr? Harry Howell said it best during the National Hockey League awards ceremony, where he was presented with the Norris Trophy as the League's top defenseman: "I've been around for fifteen years, and thank God I finally won the trophy. I've got the feeling that for the next twenty years it will be known as the Bobby Orr Trophy." High praise indeed, but consider this: Orr had just completed his rookie season, earning respect almost unheard of at that stage of a career, and he wasn't even the runner-up for the award.
Bobby Orr was regarded as a savior for the Boston Bruins from the very moment he was first seen on the ice by members of the Bruins management, playing in a junior game with children three and four years older than him, dominating the game and controlling the puck better than anyone. He was just an average kid from an average town --- not well off financially and not the greatest of students, though he tried hard --- but on the ice he became a legend.
Stephen Brunt likens Orr to the Greek hero Achilles. The National Hockey League was Troy, and Orr was the most powerful and dynamic hero of the game. And yet, like Achilles, Orr had a flaw. While he had the heart, the determination and the will, it was his knees that ultimately would cut short an exciting and record-setting career. He was the flash of light, the great fire that burned too bright for too short a time. He would win the Norris Trophy the next eight consecutive seasons and lead the League in scoring twice.
As popular and as masterful as he was on the ice, Orr was savagely private about his personal life. He was quiet and reserved, and Brunt shows us that even though he would join his teammates at a party, he often was the first to quietly slip away unnoticed. In putting together this book, Brunt approached Orr about being involved, but he declined and also made a stipulation: Brunt would not be allowed to approach his family.
In some ways that is a loss. Hearing about the storied career from the man who wrote it with his play would have been enlightening and lent a sense of charm and closeness, a way for those who worshiped him to get closer to their hero. Perhaps, however, it was more of a boon that Orr did not wish to be involved. It freed Brunt to seek his own answers and create his own path. The story he chose to pursue could not be shaped and molded, and things he discovered may never have come to light in speaking with the man himself.
One of the fabulous aspects of this book is that Brunt seems to know that a hero, no matter how grand or powerful, is not self-made. Along the way Orr has people who shape his world-view and his life. Those figures are given definition here, particularly Wren Blair, who saw the young boy play in Canada and tried to secure a contract for Boston. "Bucko" McDonald, his junior coach, recognized that Orr was exceptional: a rushing defenseman who was small. McDonald let Orr be who he was and didn't attempt to turn him into something he wasn't. Alan Eagleson was the lawyer who worked with Orr in drafting up a healthy contract in his first season and paved the way for the creation of player agents and sports management groups. However, Eagleson, who would also be the ruin of many a good man by pilfering their retirement funds, ultimately was brought down by Orr and fellow player Carl Brewer. And then there were Orr's parents, who were both encouraging and very protective.
As quickly and beautifully as he came, Orr would be gone. Brunt does an excellent job at revealing him, yet, when all is said and done, there is still so much unknown. The title, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY ORR, is very accurate. Brunt had to search, and could probably keep searching for years. What the author has done, however, is give us an exceptional biography of the greatest hockey player ever to lace up a pair of skates.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 23, 2011