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Friday, 11 January 2008

TBC: Searching For Bobby Orr

Teebz's Book Club is proud to present another book today in the on-going series of hockey-themed books that I've been reading. Today's book is Searching For Bobby Orr by Stephen Brunt. I'll be honest: I've never really been a Boston Bruins fan, so this book was kind of an eye-opener for me. From the dark days before the NHLPA existed when a team could own a player for his life, Stephen Brunt examines how a kid from Parry Sound, Ontario became known as arguably the greatest player of his era, and a man who redefined the defenceman's role. He also examines how the NHL adapted to Bobby Orr's play, how Alan Eagleson became who he was because of Bobby Orr, and how the "Big Bad Bruins" came to be because of the kid from Parry Sound.

First, a little about the author. "Stephen Brunt, a columnist at the Globe and Mail, is Canada’s premier sportswriter and commentator. He is the author of The Way It Looks from Here: Contemporary Canadian Writing on Sports; Facing Ali: The Opposition Weighs In; Mean Business: The Rise and Fall of Shawn O’Sullivan; Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story and Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and Winterhouse Brook, Newfoundland". He can also be seen and heard on Primetime Sports on Rogers Sportsnet on TV and the The Fan radio network across Canada with Bob McCown.

The story that unfolds about Bobby Orr starts from his pond hockey days in Parry Sound. Early on, there was much talk about the small kid from northern Ontario in terms of his skill and excellence with the puck. NHL scouts began to hear about him, and a few made the trip to the sleepy northern Ontario town to see this kid in action.

There are great anecdotes about hockey people like Stafford Smythe, Wren Blair, Derek Sanderson, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Harry Sinden, Brian Conacher, Pat Quinn, and many others. The description of the old hockey games played between the Original Six teams and, later in the book, the Expansion Six teams offers true insight to how teams were more family than a collection of players. Stories of players standing up for one another when a dirty hit was thrown are common, and Mr. Brunt shows how brutal the hockey on the ice actually was in terms of the violence.

Mr. Brunt gives great insight into Bobby Orr's life. He shows how the famous Orr temper led him to being one of the feared fighters in the league; a man who wouldn't back down from the toughest competitors on any team. Mr. Brunt demonstrated how he was a quiet kid, one who avoided some of the vices that affected players of that era - women, drinking, partying. He also showed how Bobby's mother, Arva, was extremely protective of her son, worrying about his schooling and whether he was eating enough when he was playing in Oshawa in the OHL. His father, Doug, was painted as a proud man who was Bobby's biggest fan. Overall, I found Mr. Brunt's biographical accounts allowed for a deep understanding of the people in this book.

Mr. Brunt also goes into detail about how Alan Eagleson moved from being a lawyer and politician to the most powerful hockey man for over a decade by associating himself with Bobby Orr. As Orr's friend, he became Orr's attorney. From there, he became Orr's trusted adviser and player agent, essentially becoming the first official player agent in the NHL. Having read Gretzky To Lemieux by Ed Willes, Mr. Brunt's book adds to the story of Alan Eagleson, and shows exactly how he came to being the man who ran hockey in the 1980s.

Most of all, Mr. Brunt details exactly how Bobby Orr's knees eventually led to his retirement from the game he so dearly loved. He discusses the operations and how doctors continually proclaimed that Bobby would be fine, yet showed how the primitive knowledge of these doctors compared to today's specialists might have saved Bobby's career.

Overall, I found Mr. Brunt to ramble sometimes in his writing, but he always got around to making his point. However, his story about Bobby Orr was told well, and gives hockey fans a birds-eye view of hockey in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Searching For Bobby Orr [is] not only one of the best hockey books ever, but a book that transcends hockey." - Edmonton Journal

Personally, this book has provided me with a new respect for Mr. Orr as I had not known a great deal about him. Mr. Brunt's book shows the good and the bad, but doesn't sugar-coat anything to make it seem like a tragic tale, stirring empathy for the titled hockey legend. This book certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval as it was extremely informative and an amazing study of one man's career. If you're a Bruins fan, a hockey historian or a hockey fan, I recommend Searching For Bobby Orr. It certainly was an enjoyable read.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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