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It was a maneuver that Bobby Orr had orchestrated hundreds of times before. He cradled the puck on his stick inside the blue line and lured the St. Louis defenseman from his position near the goal. Click. Orr slid the puck past the on-charging defenseman to a teammate at the side of the net. Click. Teammate No. 1 passed to teammate No. 2 in front of Goaltender Ed Staniowski. Click. Red light. The resurrection of Bobby Orr as a Chicago Black Hawk was only 92 seconds old last Thursday night, and on his very first shift in a red, black and white uniform he had engineered Chicago's first goal of the season. With fine dramatic emphasis, the first huzzahs of the new hockey season had been earned by the game's richest and most celebrated team-switcher.
Unfortunately for the Blues, Orr was just warming up. On his third shift, Orr initiated the passing play that led to the second Black Hawk goal. Early in the second period Orr scored himself, his first Chicago goal, working a give-and-go with Cliff Koroll and then blasting a 40-foot wrist shot past Staniowski. And later he started the play that produced still another Chicago goal. When his debut was over, Orr had been on the ice for each of the six goals that the Black Hawks had scored in their 6-4 victory over the Blues. "You know," Chicago Center Stan Mikita said with a smile, "hockey just may be fun again."
As Orr opened for the Black Hawks, the Bruins played the Minnesota North Stars before only 9,221, the smallest non-snowstorm crowd in Boston since Childe Bobby arrived to save the franchise in 1966. The Bruins' owners surveyed the 5,376 empty seats in the Boston Garden, and the next day they went to the courtroom of Judge W. Arthur Garrity in search of an injunction that would prevent Orr from playing for the Black Hawks until the Bruins received proper compensation for Chicago's signing of Orr as a free agent last summer. Hearing of this, Orr's attorney, Alan Eagleson, announced in Toronto that the Black Hawks would breach Orr's five-year, $3 million contract if they gave compensation to the Bruins, and that Orr would be a free agent again.
Boston's court action clearly had the Black Hawks—and Orr—in an unsettled state Saturday night when they lost to the New York Islanders 2-1 at the Nassau Coliseum. Obviously worried that someone might slip him a piece of paper with Judge Garrity's autograph, Chicago Coach Billy Reay steeled himself in the dressing room before the game and posted injured Defenseman Bill White outside the door to keep intruders away. During the game White and Dave Logan bookended Reay behind the Chicago bench, and escorted him Secret Service style to and from the dressing room between periods. After the game Reay bolted the door again and refused to meet with reporters. Reay arranged for Orr to have a private police escort from the building, and later Reay and the other Black Hawks had their own police protection as they exited through a back door.
"I don't know what Reay's worried about," said Islander Coach Al Arbour. "People have been chasing Orr for 10 years now and haven't been able to catch him. How's some judge going to do it?"
Orr himself masked uneasiness with cheerful talk. "It's just great to be back playing hockey," he said. "I wasn't always sure that I'd be able to say that. But here I am a Chicago Black Hawk—and trying to help them win some games."
At 28, Orr was a Black Hawk after having spent half his life in what he has called "servitude" to the Bruins. He had signed with Boston as a 14-year-old amateur for a few hundred dollars in cash, a new coat of stucco for the Orr family's house in Parry Sound, Ontario, a secondhand car and the promise—never fulfilled—of some new clothes. During his decade with the Bruins, Orr radically altered the style of hockey by introducing defensemen to the attack side of the game, and he twice scored the winning goal for the Bruins in the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He also had five operations on his ravaged left knee (and one on the right knee), including two last season that limited his activity to just 10 games and convinced the Jacobs family—the third organization to own the Bruins in three years—that he was not worth any $3 million. So now he has resettled with his wife and son on a quiet street in a Chicago suburb, far from his skyscraper penthouse in downtown Boston.
"Orr has been our leader from the minute he walked in on us," Reay says. When Orr walked into Reay's office at the Chicago Stadium, his picture was already on the wall—watching Bobby Hull's 400th career goal go into the Boston net. Reay wisely allows Orr to miss some Black Hawk practices in order to rest his knees, but Orr has fit in easily with the Chicago players. "Bobby's a superstar who acts like a rookie on the fourth line," says Defenseman Dale Tallon. "He disappears into the middle of the group."
Orr's first trip with the Black Hawks began with little ceremony. There were no television crews awaiting his arrival at the St. Louis airport, and there were no bothersome autograph-seekers to disturb him when he went off for some Chinese food with St. Louis Goaltender Eddie Johnston, an old Boston teammate. His opening-night performance impressed his new teammates. "From a distance you can't appreciate Bobby Orr," said Forward Darcy Rota. "He's maybe the best who has ever played the game, yet he's still so gung-ho. Before the game he goes around to each guy in the dressing room and bangs him with his stick, wishing him luck. He's so enthusiastic, so intense, you feel you have to be the same way. And he keeps it up on the bench."