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Bobby Orr, Pat Quinn and father and son hockey disputes- Have you ever had one?

Those who remember the early days of Vintage Leaf Memories will know a bit about my own hockey lineage.  That is, that I was born into a family of devoted (devout is a better word, actually) Montreal Canadiens’ fans.  My Dad was so passionate, the link extended past hockey to his cultural and religious background.

It was intense, and not always healthy, I don’t think—and I’ll leave it at that.

But beyond that one area of disagreement between Dad and myself (my support for the Leafs was clear but the intense dislike I had for the Habs was never really addressed openly within the family), we generally enjoyed watching hockey together—for the most part.  I talked too much for his liking, but we spent a lot of time watching Leaf and Red Wing games together. (We lived across from Detroit, and a local UHF station carried Red Wing "away" games.)

Like in the rest of life, we all make accommodations to maintain positive relationships.  For example, Dad hated Gordie Howe (and little Gordie did was appreciated in Dad’s eyes) but I tried not to cross him on that one.  It would have been a no-win for a man who dedicated much of his rooting life to the Habs and in particular Howe’s greatest rival, Maurice Richard.  I did not want to find my way completely out of Dad’s will.

In any event, the cold war was always “out there” in our relationship, though I tried to steer clear of specifics that I knew could set off a chain reaction.  He knew I loved the Leafs and we left each other alone in that regard.  When the two teams played each other, especially in the playoffs, if the game was on television (since we lived so close to Detroit, a lot of Hockey Night in Canada games in the 1960s were actually blacked out in our area when the Wings were playing at home), we usually watched (or listened on the radio) in different rooms.

It’s just the way it had to be, to stay civil.

But I well recall one time that we had actually had a spat, and it had nothing to do with the Canadiens.  You see,  Dad loved Bobby Orr (seen at right in his junior days in Oshawa, with the Generals...).  To be clear, Dad was no fan of the Bruins. But before Bobby joined the team at the age of 18 in time for the 1966-’67 NHL season (the last one before the league expanded to 12 teams), the Bruins were a last-place team and had been for half a dozen years.  There was nothing to hate.  Dad really appreciated the way Orr played the game—hard and fast—very, very fast.  Orr was also the smartest guy on skates, which Dad also appreciated  He liked everything that Orr did.

Like most hockey fans of the era, he was not as impressed with the Bruins when they became good enough to take on the Habs, especially when Boston became the often dirty  “Big Bad Bruins” and set all kinds of scoring records.  But he still loved Orr.

In any event, some of you will remember that, after winning the Stanley Cup in a major upset in the spring of 1967, the Leafs quickly went into a spiral.  They missed the playoffs the very next season (the first year of expansion) and they just managed to make the playoffs in the spring of 1969.  Their first-round opponent was the Bruins, who were building a formidable team that would go on to twin two Cups over the next three seasons—and by all rights, should have won more with a bit more discipline and a little less arrogance in the  early 1970s.

In the spring of ’69, Orr was already in his prime as the best player in the game at the age of 20, maybe 21.  The Bruins toyed with the Leafs in the first two games of the playoffs in Boston, hammering them by a score of 10-0 in game 1, and 7-0 in the second game at the cramped Boston Garden before a blood-thirsty crowd.

I say blood-thirsty because Boston fans were reveling in those days in the Bruins’ resurgence.  The Bruins were anchored by former Leaf Gerry Cheevers in goal.  They had Orr, and of course the Chicago trio acquired in a famous trade—Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Freddie Stanfield.  Throw in Teddy Green and Don Awrey on defense, the young and nasty Derek Sanderson, the classy veteran Johnny Bucyk and fireballs like Johnny McKenzie and you had an awfully good—and tough—team.

So as the Leafs were playing out the first game of the series in embarrassing fashion; it was the third period and Orr was absolutely free-wheeling.  He took the puck behind his net, coming out on the goalie’s right-hand side as he liked to do.  Just as he was generating some speed (and he could fly) Leaf defenseman, big Pat Quinn, a tough hombre in those days, saw Orr was picking up steam—and made his move.

Quinn (seen at left in action with the Leafs, in a wonderful Harold Barkley photo, with Jean Beliveau in pursuit at the old Forum...) absolutely crunched Orr with a staggering blow inside the Boston blueline.  Orr was, if I’m not mistaken, not only knocked down but briefly knocked out.

I was watching the game at the house of an old  grade-school chum (I was 15 and in high school  in April of 1969).  Like millions of Canadian viewers, I saw the brawls that ensued…Quinn being led out of the building because fans were trying to get at him.  It was a mess.  There were so many fights that night it was unbelievable.  The Bruins were “standing up” for Orr and the Leafs tried to fight back, as best they could, though other than another old favorite of mine, Jim Dorey, (and Quinn) they didn’t have a lot of team toughness that season.  Their forwards were awfully small.

(An interesting aside:  the very next season, in a game at Maple Leaf Gardens, Quinn nailed Orr was another open-ice hit in the neutral zone.  It was not as spectacular as the earlier hit, but still a big blow.  Nothing came of it, as I recall...)

In any event, Dad had been watching the game by himself at home.  He picked me up at my buddy’s house and on the way home, started to talk about the game.  He started going after Quinn for hitting Orr with a ‘dirty’ check.  (I’ve always believed he was reacting because initially it looked like Orr was really hurt seriously…)  But Dad was giving me grief as though I had done something just because it was a Leaf player who had hit Orr.

It was guilt by association, I guess.

Well, I was pretty ticked myself.  The Leafs had just been humiliated and I was in no mood for a “talking to” just because one of “my” guys had dared to touch the great Bobby Orr.  So I simply said, “It was a clean check.  He hit him with his shoulder…”

I got out of the car, slammed the door and went inside.

We never spoke of the incident again.

To this day (and as I’ve acknowledged here before, it so happens that, ironically, I developed a personal and professional relationship with Pat Quinn many years later, and he is someone I think most highly of) I feel the hit on Orr was a clean one, by the criteria of any era.

The allegation at the time—and supposedly the reason he was given a major penalty—was that he intended to hurt Orr and threw an elbow.  In fact (and I’ve seen the play dozens of time on film since), as I see it, Quinn hit Orr in the head (Orr was skating low, it would have been impossible not to hit him in the head…) with his arm…that area between the shoulder and the elbow.

Yes, his elbow came flying up as a reflex action to—and extension of—the hit, but it was not an “elbow” to the head, as many wanted to believe at the time.

In any event, what I really wanted to ask today was, have any of you ever had that awkward experience of being at odds with your dad over a matter as trivial as something that happened in a sporting event?

It always struck me as odd, though peculiarly like my family, that Dad and I would fence over the Orr hit.  (Clearly, it’s never just about the top of the toothpaste cap being left off that ticks the other party off; there were bigger issues brewing between us…)

I’d love to hear from you.  This could be fun….

12 comments:

  1. Very good article Mike. Unfortunately I don't have any stories like this to share. The rather odd thing about me and my Leafs (hockey in general) relationship is that I don't share it with my friends. None of my primary group of friends care for hockey at all. How odd.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Skill2Envy. I know discussing the olden days is not everyone's cup of tea. For me, a big part of the enjoyment of hosting this site is indeed reminiscing about the good old days, including my own family experiences. The current Leaf talk is great, but I will always aim to keep the link with the past. Thanks.

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  3. "This could be fun....."
    Or, your readers could start dredging up the terrible, soul-destroying conflicts they had with....never mind.
    My dad emigrated from Holland a few years after the war and eventually settled in Ontario and married and raised kids (5 boys) here. We would always watch HNIC on Saturday nights (I remember the agony of waiting for that stupid Tommy Hunter show to end) and funnily enough, although he's a Leafs fan, he's not much of one. All 5 of his sons, however, couldn't be pried away from the Leafs with a blowtorch and chisel. We yak every once in a while about all going to see the Leafs together, but I doubt it will ever happen. Suffice it to say that he allowed us to become the fans that we are.
    I do have a post request though- Gunnarson's comments and his struggles with confidence are one of the most fascinating aspects of hockey for me, being a lifelong depressive and keenly aware of how important the mind is high level sports-
    http://www.tsn.ca/toronto/blogs/jonas_siegel/?id=384948

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  4. Thanks KidK. You undoubtedly had some more loud family moments, with 5 boys watching the Leafs on Saturday nights. (And that's the first Tommy Hunter reference on VLM...I'm a bit surprised it's taken this long. Personally, I go back to the day of Juliette after the games on Saturday nights in the '60s.)

    Thanks for the Gunner story link. I couldn't agree more about the absolute importance of the mental side of things being so key in sport- at all levels, from youth sports to the pros....

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  5. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 13, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    Enjoy the memory Mike. Sadly, I don't have such memories. Like kidawartha, my Dad had mild interest in sports. He would torture me with the infamous Don Messer's jubilee and later Hee Haw (Parents were from the Maritime's) before HNIC. I do remember game one against LA in 75 play offs having a fight over the TV set with my baby sister. She wanted to watch "Go ask Alice" because she was reading the book in social studies. As always, Daddy's little girl got her "own way". Did finally get to watch the Leafs lose in OT.

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  6. Thanks Long Suffering...interesting how we remember things like what came on before or after the Leaf games when we were young....when I was really young, CBC didn't start HNIC on TV until 9pm...early in the second period. That was a long wait for a little kid, filling the time watching other shows!

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  7. Well, I must also say my pops and I never had a similar disagreement over hockey, mostly because we never really watched the games together much.

    My maternal grandfather was very much a sports fan. He would watch a football game on the b/w TV and be listening to baseball on radio at the same time. Rumor is he used to make book on the side, and he knew lots of wrestlers, boxers and horsepeople.

    When I was growing up my dad was just too busy working 70 hours a week. I believe he enjoyed playing team sport as a kid, probably mostly baseball. I am not sure how much he got to watch as a kid, he came form Italy at 9 years old, was one of 5 kids, and I don't even know when they would have got a TV in those days. As far as spectating, he's always tended to watch tennis and golf. From time to time I think he might have watched some hockey, because maybe once a year through the 80s and 90s he'd comment that hockey just wasn't the same as it used to be. But that was pretty much the extent of the discussion.

    I used to watch games with my ma. I think it really reminded her of her dad, who passed away in 1975 when I was 6. But there was never any real 'discussion' between her and I... she generally rooted for the Leafs.

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  8. Mark, thanks for sharing a bit about your family. I'm sorry to hear you lost your Dad at such a young age. I would have liked to know your maternal grandfather- sounds like he was a very connected and interesting guy! (He enjoyed the wrestling and boxing world, eh? Wonder if he knew Whipper Billy Watson or George Chuvalo?)

    Thanks for contributing here. I appreciate it very much.

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  9. Hey Mike,
    Sorry, that may have been confusing. My dad is still alive, he just worked a lot, we didn't have a lot of time back in those days to watch games.

    My grandfather (my mom's dad) we lost when I was 6. My grandpa took me down to the old Greenwood track once or twice. From what I know, he used to be a boxer himself in his younger years. Somewhere my ma has some pictures, autographs etc. From what she remembers, he used to play cards with the big-time Rockys (Marciano and Graziano) when one was in Toronto, but I can't totally confirm that. He may well have known Whipper, though Chuvalo may have been young for him to know. My grandfather would actually have turned 101 this July.

    I'll have to ask my cousin (well, my mom's younger first cousin). He was close with my grandparents, I know he's told me things about his Uncle Rock (my grandpa's name was also Rocky), but it's been a while lol.

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  10. I remember the Pat Quinn hit on Bobby Orr like it was yesterday. To my recollection, it was a clean hit. The Bruins’ reaction was, like we often see today, disproportionate in the sense that the hit was within the rules and spirit in which the game is played. That statement is not to dismiss health concerns about Bobby Orr. You can count me among his legion of awestruck fans. However, I believe that Quinn irked the Bruins and their faithful because he revealed their vulnerability, the fragility of the Big Bad Mythos around the team. Just as Pat Quinn took Orr out fair and square on Bruins ice, the gap between winning and losing is fragile. That insecurity festers beneath the surface of even the most dominant teams. That is why I admired the (Brian Boyle was it?) reaction to Dion Phaneuf’s hit on Saturday night. Clean hit, no reaction, on with the game. That lack of reaction impresses me in that it displays a quiet confidence that is subtly intimidating. Michael’s Dad perhaps knew that his son was right. Quinn’s hit was clean, no need for discussion, on with the game. For me and my parents, the Pat Quinn hit on Bobby Orr was something we could agree on, another bonding experience around the persistent grainy flickering of a black and white TV.

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  11. Sorry I mis-read that Mark. If you do find out some of the other old-time names your grad dad "ran" with sometimes, let me know! (The two "Rockys" are pretty big names right off the top...)

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  12. Bobby C. Thanks. That's so well said. And I concur with your remark about Boyle on Saturday night. To me, that's how the game should be played, on both sides. You make a clean hit. You take a clean hit. Keep playing.

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