By Aaron Bell
It’s been 42 years since Bobby Orr last laced up his skates with the Oshawa Generals, but on Thursday, the team and its fans confirmed that he is still a General in their hearts.
The team hosted a special ceremony before their game against teh Peterborough Petes to officially retire the number 2 jersey that Orr wore during his four year career with the Generals in the 1960’s.
Orr, who went on to win countless awards and recognition in the National Hockey League as one of the greatest players to every play the game, said that the ceremony on Thursday was one of the highlights of his distinguished career.
“This is where my career started,” Orr said. “And to be honoured in this fashion is something I’ll never forget. It’s a great honour. There are pretty good players up there and in the future they will have a lot more good players up there. I’m thrilled to be part of that.”
Orr started playing for the Generals in 1962 at the tender age of 14. He played four seasons with the team and drew national media attention for his dramatic skills. He set the offensive standard for defencemen by scoring 38 goals and 94 points in 47 games in his final junior season, records that stood until Denis Potvin scored 123 points with the Ottawa 67’s in 1972-73 and Bryan Fogarty scored 47 goals with the Niagara Falls Thunder in 1988-89.
Orr was signed to play for the Generals by long time OHL executive Wren Blair, who was most recently a special advisor to the Saginaw Spirit. Blair, who won the Allan Cup and a World Championship with the Whitby Dunlops Senior team, convinced Orr’s parents to let him travel back and forth from their home in Parry Sound to play for the Generals in 1962.
“Wren is a good talker and he spent many days in Parry Sound talking to my parents and trying to convince them to allow me to play at a very young age,” Orr said. “It was a nervous time to be playing at 14 against older guys. I was lucky I could skate a little bit so I dodged the big boys. Coming up at 14, the guys looked after me. Going to Boston at 18, again the same thing happened. A lot was written about this player coming both here in Oshawa and in Boston and it wasn’t easy for the guys. It would have been easy for them to turn on me but they didn’t. They supported me.”
The following year, Orr moved to Oshawa to live with a billet family and helped the Generals win the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions in 1966.
“It was something I wanted to do,” Orr said. “Not many did it at that age, but it was something I wanted to do. I knew that was the next step. My dream was to play in the NHL.”
Orr went on to play parts of 12 seasons in the NHL before his career was cut short by leg injuries. When he was healthy, Orr was one of the greatest to ever play the game. He was a first team all-star eight times and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman in eight straight seasons. He won a pair of Stanley Cups and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 at the age of 31.
Orr has been involved with the Canadian Hockey League during the past several years. He faced off against former coach and long-time friend Don Cherry several times in the Home Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game and is a player agent representing several NHL and OHL players.
Cherry was a surprise guest at the ceremony on Thursday and several of Orr’s teammates from his days in Oshawa were also on hand. Orr said that seeing so many old friends made for an extra special evening.
“Winning awards and championships is nice, but the friendships in my mind are the best thing,” Orr said. “To go up there tonight and see so many – not only the guys I played with but people that I ate at their homes, one of my billets is here that I hadn’t seen in years. That to me was the important thing or the exciting thing.”
Orr joins Albert “Red” Tilson and Eric Lindros as players honoured by the Generals with a jersey retirement.
“Anytime you’re honoured in this manner, it’s a thrill,” Orr said. “It really is. It’s very special and it’s something I’ll always remember. I’m so happy I did it. People say to me ‘it took this long for them to retire your sweater?’ Well, that was my fault. It wasn’t the Generals, I can assure you. This wasn’t something that I was in a hurry to do. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m thrilled. It was a fun night.”
Photo: Aaron Bell / OHL