SUNRISE, Fla. – There were empty chairs around Bobby Orr and his friend while they ate dinner in the hospitality room Thursday night at BB&T Center. Other than his table, there wasn’t another vacant seat. Hockey personnel from both the Bruins and Florida Panthers, along with league officials and media, were all present.
On the ice, Orr created plenty of space during his career, but now he’s given it, out of respect. As the room began to empty, people would walk by and say ‘hello’ and he would graciously respond. It was a little over an hour before puck drop and the Bruins’ coaching staff sat at a corner table and finished their pregame meal.
Occasionally, Bruce Cassidy would glimpse over at No. 4, who was eating a plate full of vegetables. Cassidy cleaned his area and could have easily walked out the front entrance, but he made it a point to exit out the back where Orr was sitting. They shook hands. Orr introduced his friend, David, to Cassidy and immediately Orr started asking questions about the team and the health of the currently injured players.
The conversation was brief. They shook hands again and Cassidy returned to the locker room. Orr and his friend made their way to the elevator and ascended to the press box to watch the game. Orr was asked what he thought of the job Cassidy, who is a lifelong Bruins fan, has done behind the bench.
“He’s a Bruin,” Orr told BostonSportsJournal.com. “I think he’s done a great job. Watching him from afar, his coaching style, obviously the players like him and that’s half the battle. They want to play for him and that’s what it’s all about.
“Put it all together, they have injuries now, but they find a way to win. It’s unbelievable. Guys have been out and he finds a way to win. He’s the boss back there and he’s pulling the strings and he’s doing a great job.”
When told of Orr’s comments, Cassidy couldn’t help but smile.
“That’s the ultimate compliment,” he said. “It’s always good to see Bobby.”
Cassidy first met Orr on a golf course in Smith Falls, Ontario about 20 years ago. It was an annual tournament Orr attended, and Cassidy was invited by a “friend of a friend” to participate, so he jumped at the chance.
“I brought an old picture that someone had given to me,” Cassidy recalls. “He was behind the net against the Blackhawks and was battling for the puck with Christian Bordeleau, so I asked (Orr) to sign it. He personalized it, ‘To Butch,’ and that was the first time I had ever met him. He was swamped. He signed everything with a smile on his face. He got up and thanked everybody and stayed the whole time. It wasn’t one of those deals where he played (golf) and left; he was there the whole day.”
Cassidy does not hide his lifelong passion for the Bruins. Now that he’s the coach of an Original Six franchise, which happens to be his favorite team, he gets to talk hockey with some of the all-time greats in Boston, including Orr, who lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., which is a saucer pass away from the BB&T Center.
“Now that you see him a little more you get more comfortable,” Cassidy said. “You’re around the Bruins. You’re around Cam Neely, who’s a legend. Ray Bourque, I’ve gotten to know now. Obviously, Donnie (Sweeney) was a big-time Bruin, so you’re a little more acclimated when you see these guys a little more.
“Once you’re in an NHL room, you’re around guys like (Zdeno Chara) and (Patrice Bergeron) so you feel a little less, I don’t want to use the word star struck because that’s not me. I’ve always been enamored with these older guys and have a lot of respect for them. I’m just a little more comfortable around them.”
Unlike some coaches, Cassidy wants the alumni around the team more. In the fall, he spoke with Rick Middleton, who’s now the head of the alumni association, about the possibility of integrating former players back into the mix because the coach believes it will only help the team, especially the younger players to learn the history of the organization.
“They’re fans. They’re Bruins at heart,” Cassidy said of the alumni. “Ray is excited about the year, and Bobby’s following it; they’re into it, so now you almost have a little more weight on your shoulders because you don’t want to let them down because their expectations have gone up, which is great. That’s what you want, but when you lose two out of three you think, ‘Am I letting these people down?’ You’ve got to be careful that you don’t let it affect your demeanor.”
Orr’s not the type to give advice and Cassidy hasn’t gone digging – yet. Normally when Orr, or some of the other alumni are around, it’s only for a brief time because they have other obligations to attend to when they’re in town, or meet the team on the road.
“It’s a situation when you want to have more time, so you can truly dig into some stuff,” Cassidy said. “If it’s about hockey then I want more than just two seconds. I want 15 minutes to talk hockey or a round of golf or at a function where you can chat about situations.”
It hurts me not to be on the ice with my teammates. I’ve come to learn that injuries are here to teach us something and allow us to grow. To make us stronger and better, to appreciate our health. And in times like this it is a wonderful solace to meet THIS man. He doesn’t need an introduction: he is a legend, an idol and hero. What strikes me most about Mr. Bobby Orr is that people refer to him as a gentleman - always polite, kind, humble and prepared to help when he can. Those are the true qualities of a man. Every time I walk, drive or ride my bike by his famous statue at the @tdgarden I say in silence: “Good afternoon Mr. Orr, great respect and honor to you.” 🎩👑 #bobbyorr #gentleman #legend #hockeylegend #nhl ——————————————————————————
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Earlier this season, Orr attended a game at TD Garden and visited with Cassidy. The coach asked the Hall of Famer to address the team.
“I said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that,’” Orr said.
Orr’s always been the type of former player that doesn’t want to take the focus off the current team. During Thursday’s game, he spent quite a bit of time sitting with Chara, who’s out with an upper-body injury, in the press box. It was evident the seriousness of the conversation. Numerous times, Chara was nodding his head as he listened to the greatest defenseman of all time.
With the Bruins down 3-0 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, he and his friend, David, shook hands with Chara and left the press box. It wasn’t that Orr was frustrated with the outcome of the game. He turns 70 on March 20 and he likely wanted to get home since it was a late game. But, he has been impressed with the product on the ice this season.
“If they get everybody back healthy, they’re going to be dangerous,” he said.