With such a rich history of unforgettable moments, unfathomable feats, awe-inspiring stories and legendary players, it’s always a treat to take a moment, step back and pay tribute to the great ones who came before the era of helmets and composite sticks.
And with two of hockey’s all-time icons – both of whom have had countless impacts on the game – hitting milestones, the time is right to pay homage.
First, an early happy birthday to Gordie Howe, who turns 80 on Monday.
The greatest power forward to ever terrorize an NHL ice surface, Howe will always be remembered for his tenacity, intensity, longevity, strength, and yes, his flying elbows.
I have a picture on my wall of Howe running Maple Leaf Gordie Hannigan into the end boards with referee Frank Udvari – who must have been scared for his life – doing all he can to avoid getting caught in between. At the bottom, the caption quotes Howe:
“I played religious hockey: It’s better to give than to receive.”
That says it all.
Howe played an unimaginable 26 seasons in the NHL, plus another four in the WHA. He was a man many athletes – not just hockey players – respected and idolized, and was a player all forwards of following generations strived to emulate.
With 801 NHL goals, Howe left an impression that will never fade. Recording a goal, assist and fight in one game is referred to as the ‘Gordie Howe hat trick.’ He was the sport’s first mythical being – after all, his nickname is Mr. Hockey.
And second, a happy belated birthday to Bobby Orr, who turned 60 last week.
A player who could change the momentum of a game at any moment, Orr defined a position in a way no other skater did before or since.
A defenseman, Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the Hart three times, the Conn Smythe twice and the Norris eight times – in a row.
When Orr had the puck, he was like a grown man playing with children; weaving out from behind the net and retreating back to kill precious seconds off a penalty, or darting from one end of the ice to the other to create a scoring chance and still being the first one to catch up on the backcheck.
When someone rushes end-to-end in any league nowadays, it’s commonly referred to as “pulling a Bobby Orr.”
Fearless, modest, graceful. That was – and still is – Orr.
If there are any new hockey fans reading this – or ones yet to discover the game’s extraordinary past – who have yet to introduce themselves to him, do yourself a favor and take eight minutes to watch this tribute.
No. 4 Bobby Orr. It’s as flowing and natural as the way he played. There is no doubt in my mind he is the greatest player to ever be called the greatest player.
Rory Boylen is THN.com’s web content specialist. His blog appears Thursdays.
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