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Four Bruins and an elevator: Remembering a family wedding in 1967

Boston’s visit to the ACC last night triggered memories of a long-ago family event that turned out well for a kid who loved hockey.

Those of you following some of the stories on this site may recall my anecdote about meeting Bobby Orr (“Bob” Orr, as he called himself that night) at Convocation Hall in Toronto in the fall of 1966. I was there as the youngest member of my family because my oldest brother, John, was receiving his Masters degree from the University of Toronto that night at fall convocation.

Well, it happens that I trekked back to Toronto with my family for John’s wedding a couple of months later. I believe it was early February of 1967, and while the wedding was a fairly small affair at a downtown Church, the reception was held in a couple of rooms at the relatively famous Royal York hotel, across from Union Station.

I was none too thrilled about any of this- the travel, the wedding or having to attend a boring reception for adults. As a 13 year-old, I was more interested in doing something interesting than sitting by myself and pretending I liked finger food, or getting kissed by grown-ups.

I remember walking into the hotel early that Saturday afternoon for the reception. I was glumly striding into the side entrance of the hotel with my brother-in-law, Peter.

On our way through the lobby, I thought I spotted a face I recognized.

“Hey, Peter, I think that’s Johnny Bucyk”.

“No, it can’t be” was Peter’s predictable adult response. Kids were usually wrong.

Now, Peter was a sharp guy, very laid back and not prone to over-reacting. He was a huge Leaf and overall hockey fan, however, and when he took the time to actually look at the guy I was talking about, standing in the lobby, he acknowledged that I was correct.

It was indeed Johnny Bucyk, the star winger of the (albeit then ‘lowly’) Bruins.

I had nothing with me that anyone could sign, so I quickly ran ahead of Peter to the elevators, waited impatiently for the doors to open, and went up to whatever floor the reception was being held. I barely said hello to anyone, not even congratulations to my brother and new sister-in-law Sue, and I was back down the elevator with a pen and a piece of paper—some Royal York stationary that I folded over.

It made sense to me to set up shop back down in the lobby where I first caught site of Bucyk. So I sat myself down in a comfortable Royal York lobby chair, and watched anxiously the comings and goings of strangers for the next couple of hours.

Looking for possible NHL player autographs was, to me, much better than a wedding reception.

My next player sighting was of Gilles Marotte, a broad, strong-jawed young man who I recognized as a  Bruin defenseman. He went scooting by and I jogged to catch up to him. I don’t recall any verbal exchange of note, but he was gracious enough to stop and sign my piece of paper in the hotel lobby on the night of a game (they were playing the Leafs that night at the Gardens).

Back to my chair. A little more waiting and next up was goaltender Eddie Johnston. I snagged his signature and was thrilled to do so. (I think my brother John actually went to school with Johnston’s brother at some point along the way, probably at a university in Eastern Canada, but that was irrelevant to me that day. I was hunting big game.)

What looked to be my last chance happened when Tommy Williams strode by. Williams’ claim to fame, beyond being a good offensive player for the Bruins, was that he was one of the first-ever American-born players to make it to the NHL, and at the time, he was the only one playing in the league. He signed just below Marotte and Johnston.

More time passed and I had pretty much given up hope of obtaining any more signatures, but I was thrilled to have had three guys sign my little piece of paper.

Just as I was about to head back to the elevator and the tedium of the reception, who came walking briskly by, with dry cleaning in his hand, but Bobby Orr.

Now, yes, I had “met” Orr some weeks prior, and had shook hands with him. But Orr wouldn’t have remembered me, of course.

That said, I sure knew who he was. This time, I literally had to run to catch up with him, and didn’t connect with him until I followed him into an elevator. I mumbled something nervously and stuck out my pen and paper. He shifted things around and signed the piece of paper.

The signature itself was a little on the “light” side (hey, he was holding his dry cleaning with one hand), but I knew it was the real deal.

Four Bruins in one sitting. Not bad.

It’s not like I travelled to Toronto often in those days. It just so happened my family had occasion to visit twice within the space of a few months.

I’ve been to weddings, including my own, of course, that had a special meaning, personally or spiritually. That said, I was a little young back then to fully appreciate what my brother was really doing.

But from a kid’s perspective, that wedding in the winter of 1967 turned out to be the best one I ever went to.

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