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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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The ice will soon be forming on Parry Sound, and within the month it will conquer the green waters that lap at the Thirty Thousand Islands and hold them tight until the thaw, late in April. In this long winter the harbor will, as always, belong to the kids from town and to their hockey games. They will play every day—against each other or against the Indian boys from Parry Island who come onto the ice with freshly cut saplings for sticks. The temperature there, 160 miles north of Toronto, falls to 40 below sometimes, and the ice can measure three feet deep. The games on the sound are hard. You don't get to play much unless you can grab the puck and keep it.

Bobby Orr learned to grab a puck and keep it on Parry Sound. He is only 18 now, starting his rookie year with the Boston Bruins, but many people think that before long he will be controlling games in the National Hockey League as surely as he did those against the Indian boys.

Almost from the beginning Bobby Orr has been able to dominate a hockey game. When he was working nights, Doug Orr would come down to Bob's Point during the day and watch his little son play. He would see Bobby dance on the ice among the bigger boys, going between them and around them, steering the puck all day, it seemed, until the great shelves of bubbly black clouds would begin to move in on Parry Sound and the snow would start to fall, racing the early northern darkness to the ice.

For years now hockey fans in Boston have been nursing a vision of Bobby doing the same thing on their ice, for Orr comes to the NHL as the most ballyhooed and highest-paid rookie in hockey history. The Bruins have not made the playoffs since 1959, so they have promised the fans, more and more, that Bobby Orr would be there soon. Then the Bruins would lose another game, and the crowds, grumbling, would fall out of the Boston Garden into the dark of Causeway Street and stand there under the el and talk of Bobby Orr and the day when he would be there.

When Orr was only 12 years old, 5 feet 2, 110 pounds, he already was being courted by two NHL teams. By 14, he was signed to an amateur (Junior A) contract that, in effect, bound him to the Bruins for the rest of his natural life. Significantly, he is the last of that era. Expansion in the NHL has put an end to such indentured servitude, and pro teams will no longer be able to control young prospects.

At 14, Orr was assigned to the Bruins' club at Oshawa, Ont. There, playing against men of 19 and 20, he made the second All-Star team. He probably would have made the first, but his mother would not let him live away from home, so he never practiced with the team and had to commute to Oshawa, three hours over the wintry roads, for every game. He weighed 127.

The next year and for the two succeeding seasons he not only made all-league, but every year set new scoring records for a defenseman. By the time he was 16 and grown to 5 feet 9, 166 pounds, Canada's national magazine, Maclean's, had him on the cover. " Bobby Orr," ran the accompanying text, "is a swift powerful skater with instant acceleration, instinctive anticipation, a quick accurate shot, remarkable composure, an unrelenting ambition, a solemn dedication, humility, modesty, and a fondness for his parents, and his brothers and sisters that often turns his eyes moist."

Since then other writers have regularly improved upon this modest roster of Orr's attributes. Last year Boston General Manager Leighton (Hap) Emms said that he would not trade Orr even-up for the entire Toronto Maple Leaf team. And as Oshawa began the junior playoffs last spring, newspaper ads cried: "See Boston's $1,000,000 Prospect Bobby Orr." Or threatened: "Probably Your Last Chance to See BOBBY ORR Play Junior Hockey."

After a long summer of bitter negotiations, Bobby signed for the big time aboard Emms's yacht at Barrie, Ont. at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, September 3. The contract—a bonus and two years' salary—came to something like 540,000. However parsimonious that may sound in relation to other sports, it is much the largest a hockey rookie has ever obtained. Laughing, Doug and Bobby got in the car and drove back up to Parry Sound.

The Orrs' large stucco house is set hard against the base of Tower Hill, looking out past a railroad spur line and over a freight shed to where the Seguin River tumbles white water into the sound. Nearby, the Canadian Pacific rumbles overhead on one of the largest trestles east of the Rockies, whose man-made ugliness dominates the town and makes it suffer even more because of the largess of God's beauty all around. Nothing in Parry Sound escapes that trestle. Its foundations are set as strong in Tower Hill as they are in Belvedere Hill, across the river. The richest people in town live on Belvedere Hill, which has the best view of Parry Sound. Bobby worked up there one summer as a bellhop at the old Belvedere Hotel.

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