A hockey prodigy at the age of 12 and a legend by the time he made his professional debut with the Boston Bruins at 18, Bobby Orr enjoyed the kind of early celebrity that can sometimes foster an insufferably overbearing sense of self-worth. That doesn’t seem to have been the case, at least judging by the shrug of humility that colours every page of his long-awaited memoir. In what amounts to a self-effacing refrain, the pride of Parry Sound, Ontario, and arguably the greatest player ever to lace up a pair of skates, writes: “In my experience, I’ve come to realize there are very few ‘self-made men’ in this world. While you have to work hard to become successful, the truth is that most who have gone far received a whole lot of backing from friends and family at key moments.”
Writing a memoir never much appealed to Orr, which explains why it has taken him so long to reflect on an astonishing, if sadly abbreviated, 12-year NHL career that, among numerous honours, yielded eight Norris trophies as the league’s best defenceman; three Hart trophies as its most valuable player; and two Stanley Cups, the second of which, in 1972, ended with the enduring image of Orr flying through the air after scoring the series-winning goal in overtime.
Orr writes about these achievements with modesty bordering on discomfort. Elsewhere, he expresses lasting regret at having had to sit out the iconic 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union because of one of the knee injuries he was chronically plagued with. He reluctantly addresses his betrayal by agent Alan Eagleson, founder of the NHL Players Association, who was imprisoned for fraud and embezzlement. He also lobbies for the election of his former coach, friend, and greatest fan, Don Cherry, to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Mostly, however, Orr intends his book as a reminder to parents and coaches that hockey, first and foremost, should be a recreational activity played for fun. “We can’t confuse a game played by children with a game played by men for money.” Orr’s rhapsodic reminiscences of childhood pickup games played without adult supervision on the frozen expanses of Georgian Bay leave little doubt which side of the equation provided him with his greatest thrills.