BOSTON — Patrice Bergeron does not have anything autographed by Bobby Orr.
That reality is inconceivable.
How does the alternate captain of the Boston Bruins, a player who has won a Stanley Cup, will likely spend his entire career in the organization and ultimately have his No. 37 retired — and is a huge collector of hockey memorabilia — not have anything signed by the legendary No. 4? How can this be true?
“I don’t have Bobby yet,” Bergeron said. “I just don’t want a jersey. I want something signed.”
To commemorate the anniversary of their 50th and 80th rookie seasons, respectively, Orr, 68, and fellow Bruins legend Milt Schmidt, 98, dropped the ceremonial first puck before the team’s home opener against the New Jersey Devils Thursday night at TD Garden. Orr, 68, pushed Schmidt in a wheelchair out to center ice as the 17,565 gave both a standing ovation.
“It was so special to see them,” Bergeron said. “Bobby’s so down to earth, it’s amazing how he is, how nice of a person he is.”
As Schmidt and Orr exited toward the Zamboni entrance, Bergeron skated over and shook both their hands. A team photographer stood nearby and took a picture. Now, that’s the item Bergeron should get signed for his collection.
“That would be pretty sick,” he said.
On this night, it wasn’t about Bergeron’s personalized autograph collection. It was an opportunity to honor two of the greatest players to ever wear the spoked-B.
Before the brief pregame ceremony, Orr and Schmidt met with the media. As they entered the room just outside the Bruins’ dressing room, Schmidt quickly gained control of the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are having the privilege of seeing hockey’s greatest,” Schmidt said.
As Schmidt, a former player, coach and GM for the Bruins, continued to praise Orr, the eight-time Norris Trophy winner reached into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to Schmidt as a joke.
“I would go with you, Milty, being the greatest Bruin ever,” Orr said.
Schmidt, who still has his finger on the pulse, quickly chimed in: “He has to say that because I’m sitting right next to him.”
Former Bruins teammate Derek Sanderson is not shy about sharing a funny anecdote or a serious story about Orr. Unless you’ve been living under a Zamboni, you know how Orr saved Sanderson’s life by helping him get clean and sober. That act of kindness and friendship is one major reason Sanderson is alive. He’ll tell that story to anyone who will listen. But he really enjoys telling about the good times, too.
Earlier in their careers, when they were both single, Orr told Sanderson it would be best if he settled down and got married.
“I said, ‘Nah, it’s not in my blood. You’ll be married before me,’” Sanderson recalled Thursday afternoon. “[Orr] said, ‘No, I won’t.’”
So, they made a bet: The guy who stayed single lost and had to pay $1,000. Sanderson lost.
“I paid it in pennies,” Sanderson said with a laugh. He rolled a wheelbarrow full of pennies into the Bruins’ locker room at the old Boston Garden before a practice and dumped the coins in front of Orr.
“We ended up with some [$1 bills] because the bank wouldn’t let us wipe them out [of pennies],” recalled Sanderson.
Orr is the reason New England became such a hockey hotbed, beginning in the late 1960s. His on-ice success created a hockey craze, especially around Massachusetts.
“When I came here in ’67, you could have shot a cannon off [in the Garden] and you wouldn’t have hurt anybody,” Sanderson said. “Bobby put all the seats in the building.”
In 1967, the Bruins would have Mondays off. Orr would gather a few of his teammates, including Sanderson, Gerry Cheevers, Don Awrey and Phil Esposito, and they would board a bus and travel to local communities to play against high school teams.
“We would switch goalies and have a scrimmage,” Sanderson said. “It sold out. It was only a buck, so all the parents were there and we played a game for an hour, an hour and 20 minutes. But when you get on the ice with somebody who is a freshman in high school, and you’re playing on the same ice as Bobby Orr and Esposito and those guys, they became fans for life. And now they’re grandfathers.”
There were no cameras. No social media. No one to spoil those types of moments. Orr made it genuine. Even trips to local children’s hospitals. Sanderson would leave those visits depressed, but he said it would rejuvenate Orr because he would promise to score a goal for a sick child.
“Bobby did all that for free,” Sanderson said. “I’ve never, never seen anyone, anyone do that.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien easily breaks into a smile at the mere mention of No. 4. Julien is coaching his 10th season with the Bruins, the longest tenured coach in the NHL with one team. He understands the impact Orr has had on this community and organization.
“You’re a kid and he’s your idol and then you turn around and he’s your friend,” Julien said.
Devils forward Taylor Hall, the No. 1 overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2010, is represented by the Orr Hockey Group. He doesn’t know Bobby Orr the hockey player, Hall only knows him as a friend and agent.
“From the time I met him I was 14, it was pretty cool, not only for me, but my family to experience him and to see him and to listen to what he says,” Hall said. “He’s got great ideas about the game and the way players should play. He’s a great man and a nice guy, but he’s going to go to bat for you as an agent. As I grow older and see the impact that he’s had on a city like Boston, it’s pretty cool to say he’s one of my friends.”
The ovation Bobby Orr receives whenever he’s in the building is unmatched. He’s a gentleman. He’ll do anything for the fans and the Hall of Fame defenseman is truly one of the greatest of all time.
“When you go someplace with him, you’re staying until everybody gets an autograph,” Sanderson said.
Sounds like Bergeron has a shot.