When Bobby Orr was at his peak, he was the best hockey player in the world. No other human was close. It was unbelievable how much better he was than anyone else in the pack behind. The NHL wasn’t good enough for Bobby Orr. Too bad there was no higher league.
Around the beginning of this century, Bobby Orr’s 1969-70 season was voted the most important and significant full-season contribution to NHL history by a panel of highly respected experts and hockey historians. Orr –’69-70 was ranked number 1, ahead of any of Gretzky’s magnificent seasons, ahead of everybody else. The primary reason: Orr singlehandedly changed the way the game was played. He already owned the record for most points in a season by a defenseman of 64 set in 1968-69. With 120 points in 1969-70, he became the first ever defenseman to win an NHL scoring title and bested his own record by a whopping 88%. It was a super-human feat of single-season athleticism, never witnessed before in the professional sporting world. These things were unheard of. It was ridiculous.
The following is a detailed account of how Bobby Orr’s incredible 1969-70 season unfolded.
The Boston Bruins’ season begins on October 12 at home against the New York Rangers. Every time defenseman Bobby Orr is on the ice, the Bruins play with a four-man forward line. Orr draws an assist on Fred Stanfield’s season-opening goal and sets up John “Pie” McKenzie’s game winner. The Bruins win 2-1. Orr has two points.
On October 19, the Bruins play the second of back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Boston wins 4-0. Bobby Orr gets his first goal of the season. Last year, he set a record for a defenseman with 21 goals. The Bruins are in first place and undefeated after 4 games. Orr already has 7 points.
The Bruins travel to the west coast on October 25 and defeat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2. New Kings’ coach Hal Laycoe witnesses Bobby Orr for the first time and can’t believe what he sees. “Everything I read about him was underwritten.” Orr draws his second assist on the game-winning goal by Johnny Bucyk. The sizzling pace Orr has set is unprecedented. In seven games, he has two goals and 12 assists. No defenseman has ever led the league in scoring after two weeks and Orr has a five point bulge. The Bruins remain undefeated. Orr is emerging as the most dominant individual in the game.
On November 1, the Bruins are thumped 9-2 by the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Montreal Canadiens. Bobby Orr records one assist, but the experience is humbling. The next night, he picks up three assists against the last place Toronto Maple Leafs. Veteran hockey executives across the league are shaking their heads. Orr has no equal.
On November 15th and 16th the Bruins play back-to-back games against the Rangers and Kings. Orr scores two goals on All-Star goalie Eddie Giacomin. The next night he picks up four more assists against the Kings. It’s a six-point weekend. Everyone is remarking how Orr is leading the league offensively, but still gets back to do his job defensively. He’s all over the ice. After 16 games, Orr leads the league with 4 goals and 25 assists.
It’s U.S. Thanksgiving, November 27, 1969 and Boston fans have a lot to be thankful for. Bobby Orr scores two goals and adds an assist on the game-winning goal as the Bruins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-4. Never in the past 25 years has a defenseman finished higher than 6th in scoring, but Bobby Orr, the sandy-haired marvel leads the league. His point production is double what it was at the same time last year when he set records. On November 30 the Bruins beat the Leafs 4-1. Orr has 11 shots on net and collects another goal and assist. The Bruins are in a tough division with Montreal and New York ahead. But Orr is on fire.
By mid December, the Bruins are the first team in the NHL to score 100 goals. Bobby Orr is setting up everyone on the team. On December 20th, Orr picks up five assists in a 6-4 Bruins win over the Penguins, his best output of the season. He leads the NHL scoring race and he won’t be caught. Phil Goyette of the St. Louis Blues is having a career year, but his numbers are soon buried behind Bobby Orr.
On January 15,1970, the Bruins host the L.A. Kings and win 6-3. Orr records two more assists. The season is barely half over, yet Orr breaks the record for most assists in a single season by a defenseman with 51. Three nights later, he breaks his own total points record by registering his 65th point, most ever in a season by a defenseman. This boy wunderkind is in his fourth season, but he’s still only 21 years old. He’s conquering the NHL like no one before.
On January 29th, the Bruins play at home against the Minnesota North Stars. Orr picks up a goal and three assists. Last year’s scoring champion and Orr’s teammate Phil Esposito is now in second place in the individual scoring race. Bruins’ fans debate whether Esposito can catch Orr. Only one player can win. Orr and Esposito are on the ice together a lot and often get points on the same goals. Boston coach Harry Sinden is happy to have such a good problem. After 48 games, Orr’s lead over Esposito is 13 points.
Coaches and General Managers around the NHL call Bobby Orr one of the toughest players in the league. He fights his own battles when he has to and he backs down from nobody. By mid-February, Orr leads the league in scoring, but no one else in the top 25 in scoring is even close to Orr’s penalty minute total of 109 PIM’s so far. This kid does it all.
On Wednesday, February 18, the Bruins and the Kings clash to a 5-5 tie. Bobby Orr scores the 2nd Boston goal and his 22nd of the season. With that goal, he once again breaks his own single season record of goals by a defenseman. But there are still 20 more regular season games to play. How many goals will he score? Awestruck hockey fans don’t yet fully grasp the enormity of the phenomenal season Bobby Orr is having.
John McKenzie of the Bruins is the NHL player of the week for the first week of March, 1970. Bobby Orr makes all of his teammates that much better. On March 8, the Bruins shutout the Canadiens at home 2-0. McKenzie scores the first Bruins’ goal assisted by Orr. Ken Hodge adds an insurance marker, assisted by Orr. The Boston Bruins are now in first place in the NHL with 85 points after 64 games. Orr leads the scoring race by 14 points over his teammate Phil Esposito.
It’s Sunday, March 15, 1970. Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich, Alex Delvecchio and the Detroit Red Wings are in town to face the “Big Bad Bruins.” Detroit scores first, but Bobby Orr quickly answers for Boston. Orr is blazing hot. The contest ends in a 5-5 draw. Orr collects two goals and two assists. He becomes the first-ever defenseman to record 100 points in a season. Already, his 27 goals, 74 assists and 101 points are all records for a defenseman. He leads the league with a 16-point bulge over the next best guy, teammate Phil Esposito. The Bruins soar with Bobby Orr.
The Minnesota North Stars visit the Bruins in Boston a week later. They’re lucky to witness the greatest player in the game playing at his absolute greatest. The North Stars are not so lucky on the scoreboard. The Bruins win 5-0. Bobby Orr scores the first and last Bruins’ goals and adds a pair of assists. Now, the single season record for assists by an NHL player at any position belongs exclusively to Bobby Orr.
Boston’s season ends with a Saturday-Sunday home and home series against the lowly, last-place Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins win both games and tie Chicago with 99 points but lose out on first place due to fewer wins. Bobby Orr collects three more points and finishes with 33 goals and 87 assists. He has accumulated 120 points in 76 games while nobody else has as many as 100. The Bruins’ wonder boy has done it. He becomes the first defenseman in history to win an NHL scoring title and the Art Ross trophy with more than twice as many points as any defenseman ever before. Some are already arguing that at the tender age of 22, Bobby Orr is the greatest player of all time.
In the opening round of the playoffs, the New York Rangers actually manage to beat the Bruins twice. As it turns out, they are the only team to challenge the mighty Bruins. In Game 6 at New York on April 16, 1970, the Bruins end the Rangers’ season with a 4-1 victory. Bobby Orr scores two of Boston’s four goals. He and Phil Esposito are brilliant and prove to be the difference in the series.
In the 2nd round, Boston unleashes Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito on the first place Chicago Black Hawks. Esposito faces his brother Tony, the eventual Calder trophy winner, but the series is no contest. The Bruins keep a frustrated Bobby Hull untracked and sweep the Hawks in four straight. After 10 playoff games so far, Bobby Orr has 8 goals and 7 assists for 15 points. The Bruins can smell victory and their first Stanley Cup in 29 years. Only the St. Louis Blues remain in their way.
In early May, the NHL Writer’s Association votes and gives two more prestigious trophies to Bobby Orr. He captures the Norris again as the league’s top defenseman, and he also adds the Hart trophy as the league’s MVP. As the Finals get underway, there is only one remaining major individual award left, and Bobby Orr is a prime candidate. Nobody has ever won four individual trophies in one season.
The St. Louis Blues are winners of the NHL’s West Division for the 3rd consecutive year, but they are no match for the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final. The Bruins manhandle the outclassed Blues. The only close contest is Game 4 on May 10th when the Blues manage to force overtime. Bobby Orr has already demolished two playoff records for most goals and most points by a defenseman. The stage is set and then… there was little doubt who was winning the Conn Smythe trophy when at 40 seconds into the first overtime period Bobby Orr scores The Goal. It was a dream season for Bobby Orr from beginning to finish capped with four individual trophies, several new records and a Stanley Cup. [here is a full list of Norris Trophy winners]