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A HIGH PRICE FOR FRESH NORTHERN ICE
Frank Deford
October 17, 1966
Up to now the salaries of NHL rookies have been frozen assets, but the signing of Bobby Orr may start a thaw if not an avalanche
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October 17, 1966

A High Price For Fresh Northern Ice

Up to now the salaries of NHL rookies have been frozen assets, but the signing of Bobby Orr may start a thaw if not an avalanche

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So, as early as they dared, Boston gave 14-year-old Bobby a Junior A tryout. He was obviously so good that they began to implore the Orrs—even to the point of trying to get Doug drunk—to let Bobby sign. But not until Blair suggested the compromise of letting Bobby commute to Oshawa would Mrs. Orr agree to let her little boy play.

The deal they finally agreed on included 52,800 for Mr. Orr—some of it clear, some of it to stucco the house and to buy a second-hand car. The Bruins also promised to buy Bobby some new clothes, but they kept forgetting about that. The next time the Orrs negotiated, they had a lawyer at their side. The Bruins could not understand why.

But then, at 14, Bobby was on his own, for when his parents decided to let him play they permitted him to make the final decisions. "I knew he was only 14," Mr. Orr says, "but I felt that he deserved to make up his own mind." And so, on Labor Day of 1962, while his parents watched, Bobby Orr signed his Junior A card with the Boston Bruins, there on the kitchen table in his home on Great North Road, Parry Sound. Boys his age had signed before, but most had been early to develop physically, not so immature and small as Bobby was.

Bobby was a sudden star and natural leader. His game improved each year, but much of his talent is still instinctive. He seems to have a magic facility for heading toward an empty spot and attracting a loose puck toward him. He is not only a remarkably fast skater—in Parry Sound they say only his father could skate faster—but he bursts. He starts full speed. As his scoring records indicate, he owns a fantastically hard shot from the point.

And, above all, he runs the game. Orr is most often compared to Doug Harvey, the catalyst of the great Montreal teams of the last decade. Indeed, Orr has controlled the puck so much wherever he has played that, in a way, he may have a more difficult initial adjustment to the NHL than rookies of more average skills. "I know," Bobby says. "I know I can't do all the things I've done."

He is at least as apprehensive about living up to all the fanciful expectations, for he knows that the beleaguered Boston fans have every right to expect too much of him. He knows they have been waiting for him for so long. "I guess there'll be a lot of sleepless nights for me if I don't live up," he says. Hopefully, the fans will understand that the kid is, after all, only 18. People who have been stars in any professional sport at that age are rare—as rare, say, as Bobby Feller. If Orr can merely hold his own, that would be a worthy enough achievement for this first season.

But then, his contract has already given him one significant accomplishment. The NHL establishment is not known for overpaying those in its employ. The Orrs, however, knew how the Bruins had advertised Bobby back in Boston. They had a bargaining point. And they had a Toronto lawyer named Alan Eagleson, cool and coony, to bargain for them.

Eagleson has the owners in a perfect fit, for he negotiates for 30 NHL players now and is getting them all more money. The NHL bosses suspect conspiracy and accuse Eagleson of "wreaking havoc" upon their league. Eagleson protests. For his part he has merely requested that he not be thrown into the briar patch. So after the Bruins tossed him in there a few times he came up with the record contract for Bobby.

The adventure, all of it, meant as much to Bobby Orr, growing up, as it did to Bobby Orr, remunerated hockey player. "I learned more in the last five months about people and life than I ever did all before. I learned a lot of things I never knew.

"Oh, boy," he says, laughing at himself. "You should have seen me sometimes at Oshawa. I'd go in to see somebody, and I knew what I wanted to say, but then they would start telling me things and turn it all around. They would tell me things that I knew were wrong—I knew they were—but I would just sit there and agree." He shook his head, madder at himself than the memory.

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