By James Payne – 1851 Staff
After starting the season on a three game road trip, winning two and losing one, the Bruins returned to Boston for their 2016 home opener. They faced off against the New Jersey Devils at the TD Garden on Thursday, Oct. 20 and skated to a 2-1 win. What caught the eyes of those watching wasn’t what happened during the three periods but rather the ceremonial puck drop before the game.
The Bruins brought out two legends that etched their name in NHL lore skating on the old Boston Garden ice. Bobby Orr pushed 98-year-old Milt Schmidt in his wheel chair to center ice where they dropped the ceremonial puck together. Schmidt and Orr are celebrating their 80th and 50th anniversaries since joining the Bruins organization, respectively. Both believe the other is the greatest player in Bruins history.
Schmidt joined the Bruins in 1936 and played on the same line with two of his childhood friends. Together, they lead the Bruins to Stanley Cup titles in 1939 and 1941. Schmidt missed three seasons from 1942-43 to 1945-46 to serve for the Canadian military in World War II. In 1951 Schmidt was named team captain and went on to become the league’s Most Valuable Player that season. He retired during the 1954-55 to become Head Coach. He coached the B’s as well as being Assistant General Manager (GM) through 1966 then became GM in 1967. He left in 1975 for the Washington Capitals but during his time in Boston he acquired big names such as Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge and also scouted and signed Bobby Orr.
Orr debuted for the Bruins in 1966, his first of 10 seasons in Boston. Orr finished is rookie season with 13 goals, 28 assists and the Rookie of the Year award. It wasn’t long into his career where he would start to deal with knee problems that would eventually cut his career short. In the 1969-70 season, Orr became the first defenseman to lead the league in points with 120.
Orr’s most famous moment, which he has a statue for outside the TD Garden, came during that season’s Stanley Cup Finals when Orr scored the overtime winner in Game 4 and “flew” across the ice by ultimately doing what appeared to be a belly flop. Orr led the Bruins to another Stanley Cup in the 1971-72 season as well as signing the NHL’s first million-dollar contract. After his time in Boston, Orr signed with Chicago for his final three seasons but he played only 26 games over those three seasons because of his knee issues. Orr finished with 270 goals and 645 assists, tremendous marks for a defenseman. Imagine what those numbers could have been if he wasn’t forced into retirement at the age of 30. Orr is considered by some to be the greatest hockey player of all time.
Both Schmidt and Orr have their numbers hanging in the rafters at the TD Garden, 15 and 4 respectively. Schmidt was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1961. Orr was inducted at age 31, the youngest ever, in 1979. For these two Bruin greats, especially Schmidt at age 98, to return to the Garden was just what the fans and team needed as the puck dropped on the new season.