Good players come along in sports regularly. Great players appear on the scene less frequently. The greatest players change the way their sport is played.
Robert Gordon Orr changed the way ice hockey is played. Born into a family of five children in Parry Sound, Ontario on March 20, 1948, his grandfather was a top pro soccer player in Ireland and his father a pro hockey prospect in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League. He played his first organized hockey at age 5 and quickly developed superb stickhandling skills and blazing speed on the ice. When he was only 12 years old, the 5’2”, 110 pound Orr was already being courted by two NHL teams and was signed to an amateur contract by the Boston Bruins at age 14. The family was paid $ 2,800 and the Bruins agreed to put a new coat of stucco on the Orr’s house. He was assigned to the Bruins’ minor league club in Oshawa, Ontario, where he played against 19 and 20 year olds. His mother would not let him live away from home so he remained in Parry Sound during the week and did not practice with the team but drove south to play games on weekends, a three hour trip one way. One year later, he moved to Oshawa, enrolled at R.S. McLaughlin High School and boarded with a local family. Orr scored 29 goals that season, a junior record for defencemen and was named to the Ontario Hockey Association’s All Star team. At age 16, he appeared on the cover of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean’s and his legend was born. His goal scoring and point production increased in each of his four years with the Oshawa Generals, where he set goal scoring records and was a perennial All Star.
The minimum age requirement to play in the NHL was 18, so the Bruins had to wait until the 1966-67 season for Bobby Orr to make his league debut. He scored an assist in his first game, a 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings and four nights later scored his first goal in a game against Montreal, a feat that was rewarded with a standing ovation from the home crowd at Boston Garden. He went on to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie and was runner up for the Norris Trophy as top defencemen. Injuries limited Orr to just 46 games in his second season and forced him to undergo two separate knee surgeries. Despite this hardship, he was named to the All Star team and was awarded the first of a record eight consecutive Norris Trophies. In his third season, Orr broke the NHL single season record for goals and points scored by a defensemen, with 21 and 64, respectively. He doubled that point total the following season and led the league in scoring, becoming the only defencemen in NHL history to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. He also nabbed the first of three consecutive Hart Trophies as regular season MVP while leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1958, where Orr scored one of the most dramatic goals of all time off a give-and-go pass from Derek Sanderson to win Game 4 in overtime and complete a Bruins sweep. It was the B’s first title in 29 years and earned Orr the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, making him the only player in NHL history to win all four major NHL awards in one season [Norris, Art Ross, Hart, Conn Smythe]. In 1970-71 he set three single season records that still stand; most points by a defencemen , most assists by a defencemen  and highest plus/minus in one season [+124]. Despite that success, the Bruins were swept in the first round of the playoffs that year but came charging back the following season to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Orr was brilliant, scoring the Cup-winning goal against the New York Rangers in route to winning MVP for the regular season, playoffs and All Star game in 1972. Orr played three more seasons in Boston before injuries caught up with him. He helped Team Canada win the 1976 Canada Cup and was named tournament MVP and signed with the Chicago Black Hawks that year. Injuries limited him to only 26 games in three years there and he had undergone over a dozen knee surgeries by 1978, leaving him barely able to walk. He retired six games into the 1978-79 season as the leading defencemen in league history in goals, points and assists.
Bobby Orr radically altered the style of hockey by introducing defencemen to the offensive side of the game. Prior to Orr, defencemen stayed in their zone, protecting the goal and clearing the puck. Orr scored goals, rushed the puck up ice and set up teammates with precision passing. He was fast, tough, aggressive and possessed the stick handling and shot making skills of a forward. Prior to Orr joining the NHL in 1966, no defenceman had scored 20 goals in a season in over two decades. Orr did it seven straight times, five times scoring more than 30 and once 46. No defenceman has ever led the league in scoring and Orr did it twice. No defensive player has ever led the league in assists and Orr did it five times. He played ten seasons with the Bruins and two in Chicago but only played in 47 NHL games after his 27th birthday. In 1997, The Hockey News voted him as the second greatest hockey player of all time, behind Wayne Gretzky. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 at age 31, the youngest ever to be inducted into the Hall at that time.
On this date in 1971, Bobby Orr became the NHL’s first “million dollar man” when he signed a five year contract with the Boston Bruins for $ 200,000 per year.