• Sal Maiorana

Picture Perfect: Bobby Orr's 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal

BOSTON - (May 10, 1970) - The joke in Parry Sound, Ont. used to be that summertime meant two months of bad skating on the Seguin River.

To say that it’s cold in Parry Sound, a small town on Georgian Bay about 150 miles north of Toronto, is to say that its most famous native, Bobby Orr, was the greatest defenseman ever to play in the National Hockey League.

Orr spent practically every cold winter day of his youth skating on the Seguin, perfecting the moves that would dazzle NHL audiences on a nightly basis in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when he starred for the Boston Bruins.

One of the favorite games Orr and his chums would play was keepaway. The object wasn’t to score goals, but to gain possession of the puck and try to keep it away from everyone else as long as you could. Children chased little Bobby Orr all over the frozen river, just like the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs used to chase him around the ice in NHL arenas. Rarely did anyone ever catch him and steal that puck away.

And none of the St. Louis Blues could catch Orr early in overtime of Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals when he scored the Cup-clinching goal, the puck crossing the goal line as Orr was flying through the air after being tripped. It was one of hockey’s most unforgettable moments because Orr’s flight was caught by quick-fingered photographer Ray Lussier and it remains one of the most famous sports pictures ever.

Orr had been a child hockey prodigy almost from the moment he took to the ice for the first time as a 4-year-old. By the age of 12, he was being scouted by all six of the original NHL clubs, and when he was 14, he signed an organizational pact with the Bruins.

After four years of junior hockey, he signed an NHL record bonus contract worth about $75,000 and made his NHL debut in 1966 at the age of 18. That year, the oft-struggling Bruins finished last in the standings, but Orr scored 13 goals and won the Rookie of the Year award.

He did not win the Norris Trophy for best defenseman – that went to New York’s Harry Howell. But in his acceptance speech, Howell forewarned everyone of what was to come when he said: “I’m glad I won this award this year because I have a feeling that Bobby Orr will win it next year and every year until he retires.”

Orr won the Norris the next year, and the seven years after that, and the Bruins were never out of the playoffs.

In 1969-70, Orr set all-time NHL records for goals (33) and points (120) by a defenseman, and his 87 assists were a record for any position. He won the scoring title, the first defenseman to do that, and in addition to winning the first of his three consecutive league MVP awards, he was named MVP of the playoffs when the Bruins beat the Rangers, Blackhawks and Blues to win the Stanley Cup.

Boston won the first two games of the Finals in St. Louis, 6-1 and 6-2 and affter the second game, Blues coach Scotty Bowman said: “They were twice as good as us tonight.” Boston coach Harry Sinden replied: “We were three times as good.”

When Boston won Game Three 4-1, Derek Sanderson, the feisty Bruins center, said: “There is no way we’re going back to St. Louis. Hell, we have a tougher workout in practice.”

Such was not the case in the clincher, though. The Blues, desperately trying to end their 11-game Finals losing streak, went ahead 3-2 just 19 seconds into the third period when Larry Keenan scored on a power play. But Johnny Bucyk – the Bruins elder statesman and captain who had joined the team in 1957 and had endured six last-place finishes in seven years from 1960-67 – tied the game with 6:32 left in regulation when he converted John McKenzie’s pass.

“After the third period I told the fellows, ‘Look, let’s not do too much thinking,’” Sinden recalled. “We’ve lived and died playing our gung-ho hockey all along. We went out there to attack. If we died by it, we died by it.”

Attack is what Orr did on the first shift. In his book Bobby Orr: My Game, Orr wrote that he probably should have been nowhere near the goal crease on the winning play, but that was his style.

“One of the Blues defensemen got the puck and shot it along the boards toward my position at the point,” Orr wrote. “Since it was sudden death, I should have made the safest possible play and backed out of the St. Louis zone. Without thinking, though, I darted for the puck. Mistake No. 1. If a St. Louis player had reached the puck before me, the Blues would have had a 2-on-1 break against us.

“Fortunately, I got to the puck first and knocked it back into the corner to Derek Sanderson. Then I instinctively skated toward the St. Louis goal. Mistake No. 2. I should have retreated back to my position on the point because it was vacant. As I cut in toward the goal, Sanderson flipped a perfect pass onto my stick and I moved in alone on Glenn Hall. When Hall started to drop to the ice, I should have flipped the puck over him and into the net. Instead, I slid it along the ice.”

In many players’ minds, that would have been Mistake No. 3, going low instead of high, Orr wrote. But it was Orr’s creativity, his ability to make split-second decisions, that separated him from all others of his era. He went on to explain that, “When a goaltender is falling down or moving from one side to another in his crease, he also must leave a pretty big space between his feet. My shot went along the ice between Hall’s feet into the net.”

Just as the puck was crossing the goal line, St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard hooked his stick into Orr’s skate, sending Orr flying through the air. While parallel to the ice, Orr realized the puck was in the net and he began to celebrate just before he crashed to the surface.

Boston Garden erupted, letting out 29 years of Stanley Cup frustration, and the Bruins piled on their fallen comrade in celebration.

“That Orr is too much,” said Sanderson. “Bobby’s got more anticipation and knowledge of the game than anyone. He was 40 feet away when he saw the play develop. It was give and take, baby, and he went right in.”