As for the big, bad—and now old—Bruins, Orr is, Sinden says, "still the Godfather." When the flamboyant and reckless Sanderson showed up in Chicago in the winter of '78 stoned and unable to even hold a cup of coffee steady, Orr personally checked him into a hospital and was there when Sanderson woke up with three doctors staring at him. "Who's going to tell him?" one asked.
"I'll tell him," Orr said, and then he leveled with Sanderson: "You're a full-blown alcoholic and a drug addict. It's over. You've got to go to rehab." Orr paid for that first stint. When Sanderson relapsed, he says, Orr paid to send him back. And then again. "He never left me," Sanderson says.
When Sanderson finally cleaned up and began a new life as a financial adviser to athletes in the 1990s, Orr invested with him, gave Sanderson the chance to work with Orr's clients too.
Orr also paid for rehab stints for former Bruins trainer John (Frosty) Forristall, his roommate during his first years with the Bruins and an irreverent bon vivant whose alcohol problems led Esposito, then the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, to let him go in 1994. Forristall returned to Boston jobless, and soon after he was told he had brain cancer. Bobby and Peggy took Forristall into their home for a year until he died in '95 at 51.
MAYBE IT WAS THE FACT THAT HE'D JUST TURNED 60 or that two knee-replacement surgeries had freed him of cane and pain. Maybe he figured he could finally take the onslaught of memories without breaking. But on Nov. 27, 2008, Orr relented at last, stood on the ice at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, Ont., and allowed the junior team he left in 1966 to retire his number.
Still, he could barely sleep for two nights before. Oshawa, after all, had known him all the way back in 1962 when Orr was raw, wide-open, 14 years old and missing his parents, Doug and Arva, up in Parry Sound. But Arva died in 2000 and Doug in '07, both in winter, and when Orr took the microphone that night, his voice quavered and his eyes filled. "My mom and dad were the perfect minor hockey parents," he said. "Their whole philosophy was, Look, go out and play, have fun, and let's see what happens. And I wish there were more parents that thought like that when it came to their kids playing hockey...." And the standing crowd cheered the dig at hockey parents gone wild, cheered how things used to be.
A few weeks later Orr returned to Oshawa to coach against Cherry in the 2009 Top Prospects Game, the annual showcase for the best junior talent. It was Orr's 10th appearance. (He would return in 2010 but not in '11.) During a morning skatearound the players began circling the ice counterclockwise. Orr joined in, dipping into the flow and skating hard. Cherry hadn't seen Orr on the ice pain-free in 35 years. "Before, it was push and glide, really sad to see," he said. "Now? You would never know."
Orr gathered up a puck and wristed it low into the empty goal, making the net shiver. He stopped, began feeding all the young men as they swooped past, clockwise now: Foligno, Holland, De Haan, Tavares, O'Reilly. He tapped gloves with one, cracked a joke with another. Now Eakin, McNabb, Roussel flashed past, and now Schenn, and Orr motioned with his stick, and Schenn passed back the puck, maybe three inches wide. "Hey!" Orr snapped, and he banged his stick on the ice as if to say, Right here, and Schenn got closer with the next one. Orr gave him a grin.
He came off the ice later, and he spoke about playing as a kid, outdoors mostly, shooting through the fierce cold on the Seguin River, on Georgian Bay, scrapping on icy parking lots. "No coaches, no parents," he said. "Get the puck and just go. It was never a job for me. Even during my pro days, it was never, ever a job. That's what these kids have to understand: Just enjoy it, keep that love and passion for the game. I think what sometimes we do—we, the pressures, the coaches and parents—we just suck that love and passion from our kids. And I think that's wrong."