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White walked into the job cold. "I'd been called assistant coach this year waiting to see if I could play," he says, "but I didn't do anything in practice or, after the first couple of weeks, even go on the road. I've gotten ideas from Stan and Bobby and other veterans. I've tried to get the team working a little harder; having practices the days of games, things like that. Billy didn't believe in practicing a power play, and Bobby's helped organize one and we work on it every day. But I still feel awkward."
One day former teammate Gene Ubriaco, now coaching in Chicago area amateur programs, came into the office and White asked him for some advice. Ubriaco looked around and said, "Move your chair closer to the wall."
Mikita, who had been hurt and missed 23 games, makes light of his coaching duties. "There are a few things I might say to guys now that I wouldn't have before," he says, "but I'm having enough trouble trying to play. Bill White's the coach. That's the way it's got to be."
And Coach Orr? "If they think I'm ever going to occupy this office of yours they're barking up the wrong tree," he said to White the other day. "I'm a player, not a coach. If I can't play, then I'll retire. I'm just doing what they ask me. Which is really nothing." But White and the players, one of whom called Orr an "encyclopedia," say he has helped immensely. Orr is a rarity among athletes, a man who refuses to dwell in the first person singular. And when Orr's attorney, Alan Eagleson, announced in Toronto that Bobby hadn't cashed a paycheck—he gets $600,000 a year—while he was sidelined, an embarrassed Orr immediately and angrily phoned him.
That the Black Hawks need Orr, one way or another, is obvious. With Reay coaching, the club was 6-5-1 with Orr and the 18 points he scored; without Bobby the Hawks were 4-14-4. "He leads by his mere presence," says White.
Orr's reappearance on ice against the Islanders is an illustration of how White plans to use him. "There's no question he tried to come back too soon after his latest operation [his fifth] and do too much in the Canada Cup series and early in our season," White says. Indeed, Orr was the MVP in three of the seven Canada Cup games and was playing more than 30 minutes a night for the Hawks at the start of the season. "I'll use him on the power play and the odd shift," says White. "That's enough to make a considerable difference. The problem is getting him to take it easy."
Orr took a dozen shifts totaling 13:57 against the Islanders, and afterward dodged reporters with a brief "I feel fine."
Despite Orr's dramatic return, bone chips are still floating around in his knee and Bobby cannot push off with his old acceleration. He rushed the puck cautiously and took only one check in the Islanders game. "Nobody wants to be the one to injure him," said Bryan Trottier of the Islanders. "He looks pretty bad right now," said teammate Lorne Henning. "He couldn't make the sharp cuts or quick stops. It's too bad."
But even a hobbled Orr might be enough. After all, the Smythe Division is so feeble that it can be won by any team that just ties all its games. In fact, with the All-Star break coming up, not one of the division's five teams is at .500, and neither Minnesota, Vancouver nor Colorado has won a third of its games. Yet one of them will be rewarded with a playoff berth. Chicago, closing in on division-leading St. Louis, has a good shot at the championship. Which goes to show that a million-dollar line can give way to a million-dollar coaching staff without much being lost—so long as one of the coaches is also a part-time player named Orr.