BOOKS

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

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - Re­viewed by Wayne Tefs

Four pages of re­views

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: awein­spir­ing 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.

NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

RAY LUSSIER / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Orr goes into or­bit af­ter scor­ing the goal that won the Stan­ley Cup for the Bos­ton Bru­ins in 1970 against the St. Louis Blues at the Bos­ton Gar­den.

Orr My Story By Bobby Orr

Vik­ing, 290 pages, $32

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