The Goal immortalized
FOCUS ON: NHL HISTORY Bruins to unveil statue of Bobby Orr’s Cup-winning goal today
OTTAWA – Like the man himself, the statue will be larger than life. Today in Boston, a bronze Bobby Orr will be unveiled, 110 per cent the dimensions of Orr in the flesh, but a heavyweight – a 250-kilogram sculpture depicting the airborne No. 4 after he scored THE GOAL on May 10, 1970 to capture the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins.
Now there’s a notion to terrify any goaltender alive or dead: a 600-pound Orr flying past the goal crease.
Forty years later, the image endures – Orr in full flight after beating St. Louis Blues goaltender Glenn Hall – capturing for all time the essence, the power and elegance, of the superstar defenceman.
Oh, how the image endures, with or without the sculpture by Harry Weber, who also bronzed Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass.
Google Orr or Bruins history and Flying Bobby pops up on command, usually in black and white. How sweet it is that long before YouTube and 24/7 sports networks, before high definition and digital technology, a simple still photograph, part of a series of compelling photos, would become hockey’s most famous image.
There is irony, too, in the context, because the dramatic photograph was hardly drawn from one of hockey’s most dramatic scenarios. Yes, it was an overtime playoff game, but as Hall, the brilliant Hall of Fame goaltender, rightly points out, this was not a Game 7 Cup final, nor even a competitive series.
It was Game 4 of a one-sided final during hockey’s difficult early days of expansion, completing a sweep by the Bruins over a Blues roster cobbled together from the meagre expansion pickings of 1967. The NHL, remember, doubled in size to 12 teams from six, before expanding further.
“Teams didn’t give them much, old players and young kids,” said Hall, speaking by phone from his farm in Stony Plain, Alta.
Hall was 38 at the time of the series against Boston, earning a career-high $65,000 salary, still quick, formidable, though past the prime of his body of work with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.
With the Blues, Hall was surrounded by such journeymen as Jim Roberts, Terry Crisp and Larry Keenan, as well as tough stalwarts like the Plager brothers, Bob and Barclay, and André Boudrias. Red Berenson was the Blues top forward.
On the other bench were the glamour boys, established stars such as Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, John Bucyk and Derek Sanderson.
“But St. Louis represented the ex- pansion teams well,” Hall said, citing the ownership of the Solomon brothers, the management of Lynn Patrick and the coaching of a young Scotty Bowman.
The Blues represented expansion so “well” they were in the Cup final for three straight years, from 1968 through 1970, although never a threat to win. St. Louis was swept in all three finals, twice by the Canadiens and then by the Bruins.
By 1970-71, the NHL altered its playoff format such that the newer teams were not assured of a representative in the final, the divisions were changed, and east and west teams met in earlier playoff rounds.
But on May 10, 1970, as Game 4 headed to an unlikely overtime, the Bruins were looking to avoid embarrassment as much as they wanted to win. Boston had outscored St. Louis 12-4 through the first three games. Now, the Blues were on the verge of winning their first Cup final game after 11 straight defeats?
That simply was not on for the Bruins.
On a steamy hot Mother’s Day afternoon in Boston, a Garden party crowd of 14,835, including standing room, was ready to explode. And not because the air was heavy enough to drink.
For 29 years, Boston hockey fans had been building up to this moment – the Bruins hadn’t won the Cup since 1941 – and they were damned if they weren’t going to celebrate this one at home.
“I can imagine what the players in the Boston dressing room were saying,” Hall said. “ ‘We can’t get beat by an expansion team.’ They came out flying in the overtime – they didn’t want to go back to St. Louis.”
The play leading to the winning goal was simple enough. At the Blues blue line, Orr kept the puck in, spoiling a potential two-on-one the other direction, knocking the puck into the corner for Derek Sanderson. The moment Orr pitched the puck he was in motion, driving to the net with his classically fluid strides, looking to complete the give-and-go with Sanderson, the playboy centre. Hall read the play, using his goal stick to try to block the centring pass, but missed, and now the puck was on Orr’s stick.
As he shifted left to right to face Orr, Hall led with his right skate, forcing his pads open slightly. Orr surprised him with a quick shot between the pads. Overtime had lasted 40 seconds. “I didn’t think he’d go five-hole,” Hall recalled. “Quality players usually deked you and he was a quality player.”
“I was really just trying to get the puck on net,” Orr said later. “I looked back, and I saw it go in, so I jumped. Then Noel Picard helped a little by lifting his stick under my skate.”
Picard knew he was late to the party, and as Orr jumped for joy, a frustrated Picard tucked the blade of his stick under Orr’s left foot and yanked. The combination of Orr’s leap and Picard’s boost launched Orr skyward, so high his left skate and outstretched gloves rise above the crossbar in some of the precious photos.
Without the launch, and if it were anyone but Orr, the image, the goal itself, would not have resonated as it did. As Orr’s defence partner, the journeyman Don Awrey said afterward, in understatement: “I don’t think it would have become as famous if I had scored the goal.”
All the players in the frames of the pictures – Sanderson, Orr, Hall, Picard, Wayne Carleton, Jean-Guy Talbot – have signed copies of the prints a thousand times over. The losing Blues are good-natured about the endless attention, although Hall implies the hype is a little overdone.
In 1996, Hall and Orr were honorary captains at the NHL All-Star Game, and naturally they were coaxed into autographing another few dozen images of the Flying Bobby goal. Hall took the opportunity to tease Orr.
“Is that the only goal you ever scored?” Hall said.
“I got a couple of others in practice,” Orr replied.
Over time, the image of a 22-yearold Orr in full bloom – full flight – has grown in significance because it so beautifully captures the wonder of Orr before injuries and knee surgeries cut him down from the clouds.
In the big picture, Orr’s career sometimes seems as fleeting as the click of a camera shutter, and so we treasure the image of him soaring like a bird, however briefly.