This week in Bobby Orr’s history began and ended with goals that bookended his career. In between, Orr went flying into his most famous goal, but that is a different story. Having scored his first NHL goal with the Boston Bruins on October 23, 1966, Bobby netted his last NHL goal with the Chicago Blackhawks on October 28, 1978 – twelve years and five days later.
Rookie defenseman Bobby Orr made his debut at Boston Garden on October 19, 1966, when the Boston Bruins defeated the Detroit Red Wings 6-2. Orr wrote in his autobiography that he was so excited he showed up far too early for the game and part of that excitement stemmed from playing Gordie Howe. “During that first game, I got into it a bit with my hero.” Despite the tussle, Orr went on to earn an assist, his first NHL point. “In reality it wasn’t much of a play. However it happened, I was happy to have my first NHL point and to get a win.”
At the very next home game, four nights later, Orr “got a point shot past the Montreal Canadiens’ Gump Worsley to tie the game.” He described his experience scoring his first goal. “The fans at the Garden were on their feet, not because the goal was a work of art – it was their way of welcoming me to Boston. Those fans went out of their way to make me feel at home. I always found the cheers deeply humbling. When you hear that, you just want to give back. So that goal was the start of a very special relationship.” Although the Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens for the second night in a row, the fans could see that Orr would bring something special to the team.
After ten seasons of very high highs and injury-driven lows, Orr relocated to the Chicago Blackhawks. They beat the visiting St. Louis Blues on October 24, 1976, when Orr scored twice (20 seconds into the game and midway into the third period) and topped 900 career points. He was the first NHL defenseman to reach that milestone. He played just twenty games that season and only scored once more before taking the next season off in the hopes of letting his knees heal.
Unfortunately, the rest did not lead to a full recovery, and Orr’s 1978-79 season would be short and his last. As Orr explained in his autobiography, “I couldn’t cut, I couldn’t accelerate, I couldn’t play at the level that I expected of myself anymore. I had always said I would play until I couldn’t skate anymore. Finally, I knew that day had come. I scored my last goal in the NHL on October 28, 1978, against Detroit. Barely a week later, I retired. I just couldn’t go anymore.” The Blackhawks lost that game 7-2, won the following night against Montreal, and finally lost Orr’s final game on November 1. Orr was only able to play six games that season before announcing his retirement on November 8. “Still, I am glad I played those last few games,” he wrote. “It was at least a relief not to have to go through life wondering if there might have been a chance I could have kept playing, could have raised the Stanley Cup one more time. I knew, without a doubt, I was no longer able to play.”
Added up from the first point and goal to the last, Orr retired as the all-time leading defenseman in goals and points. That was in addition to his 18 individual awards and two Stanley Cup championships. The Bruins retired his number in January, and so great were his accomplishments that the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its traditional three-year waiting period and inducted Orr in 1979. About his induction, Orr said, “I grew up with the same dream that most boys in Canada have — to play in the NHL. This is a tremendous way for it to end.”
- Bobby Orr, Orr: My Story (N.Y.: G.P. Putnam, 2013).