March 25, 2010

Bobby Orr's Dad Was Great Player, Too

Here's a passage from Howard Liss's 1972 book Strange But True Hockey Stories:

"Parry Sound is a small town about 100 miles north of Toronto. It gets mighty cold up there. Frigid winds whip down on parry Sound from Georgian Bay, a body of water connected to Lake Huron. The ice starts forming along the shore and on rivers and streams late in November or early December, and it doesn't break up until April.

"Hockey scouts have learned that many good prospects come from faraway places like Parry Sound. Kids start skating soon after they learn to walk, and more often than not they are carrying hockey sticks. Scouts trek out to places like Parry Sound because they know that they may discover a great hockey player. Such players as Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Jean Beliveau came from the far reaches of the Canadian north.

"In 1942 Harold "Baldy" Cotton, chief scout of the Boston Bruins, heard about a couple of young players in Western Ontario named Pete Horeck and Doug Orr. Cotton went to see them play and was quite impressed. Horeck looked good, but Orr looked even better. He was a fast skater, a better stickhandler, and he was bigger and stronger than Horeck. Cotton wanted them both to try out with a Boston farm team.

"Horeck agreed, but Doug Orr had other plans. World War II had broken out and he wanted to enlist in the navy. So Horeck reported to the Atlantic City Seagulls of the Eastern Hockey League, and Doug Orr joined the navy."

The rest, as they say his history. Horeck went on to the American Hockey League and then to NHL for several years, playing with Boston, Chicago and Detroit. Doug Orr returned home after the war, but at the age of 21 opted not to pursue hockey again. He immediately found a job to support his wife and growing family, a family that included third child Robert Gordon Orr.

Twelve years after the birth of Bobby Orr the Bruins scouts, this time led by Milt Schmidt, Lynn Patrick and Wren Blair, headed to an Ontario Bantam Championship. They came away amazed by the 12 year old Orr.

Liss quotes the Bruins first impressions of their new found prodigy:

"Incredible! The way that boy skates without wasted motion. Reminds me of Doug Harvey," said Schmidt."

"No, no," rebutted Patrick, "He's more like Eddie Shore - he keeps the puck in front of him, always looking for an opening."

The Bruns went on to sponsor the Parry Sound teams to ensure they had first crack at Bobby, and, believe it or not, they signed him when he turned 14.

Liss speculated that we may never have heard of Bobby Orr had Doug pursued his own NHL career first.

"No one doubts that Bobby Orr was the most spectacular player in a generation. But luck may have played its part in his success. Some sportswriters think that if Doug Orr had played big league hockey, no one would ever have heard of Bobby Orr.

"If Doug had accepted Baldy Cotton's offer of a tryout with Boston, he would have become a Bruin and Bobby might have grown up in Boston instead of Parry Sound. Bobby would have had fewer opportunities to skate and perhaps less encouragement from his father. In fact, he might not have been a hockey player at all."

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