A Savior on Skates

Bobby Orr ran the camp. He was the Michael Jordan of hockey in the '70s: the undisputed star of the legendary Bruins.

As a business owner in the '70s, my dad was a Jewish version of Tony Soprano--without all the murders, loan-sharking, and drug dealing. Vendors constantly bestowed gifts upon him: pewter and silver mugs and goblets, fine cut crystal, wristwatches, Cross pen and pencil sets, cases of scotch...it was a good gig.

Sometimes he'd come home with the swag at night, or it would magically appear at our doorstep like an orphan. The strange reality of desirable objects simply materializing, at no cost whatsoever to us, we regarded as perfectly normal, and contributed to my family's complete lack of understanding about money and the true cost of things.

One perk was getting tickets to sporting events, including those involving the Boston Bruins, one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League. Now, apparently, I was going to become involved in some kind of hockey work/release program. Calls were made, last-minute plans arranged, and one day I found myself in a car as my dad drove me to a remote parking lot somewhere. He put me on a bus with a bunch of other kids from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, tough characters who already knew one another from years of smacking around on the rink. We drove north for many hours until we reached our destination, a small town one hour north of Toronto.

Bobby Orr ran the camp. He was the Michael Jordan of hockey in the '70s: the undisputed star of the legendary Bruins. Swift, tough, amazingly agile, he revolutionized the way defensemen played, and became one of the game's most accomplished offensive players. To a New England boy, he was a god.

I arrived with no gear whatsoever, so they outfitted me from head to toe at the camp shop. As usual, I had no clue who footed the bill. As if I didn't look ridiculous enough sliding around the ice on my ankles while the other kids shot past me like jets going by a turtle, I was forced to wear the most absurd pair of skates ever designed: white, with red and blue accents. Maybe they'd work for the bicentennial, but this was 1971, not 1976. And I was in Canada.

The other kids were merciless. They laughed like hyenas at my pathetic attempts to get around the ice without killing myself.

Luckily for me, Bobby Orr was no false prophet.

Several days into the camp, he blew his whistle and brought the practice to a halt. He stood in the middle of the ice and started berating my abusers: "If you guys worked half as hard as Peter here does, you'd be twice the players you are. Now shut up and get back to work!"

He skated over to the side boards of the rink, where I was hanging on for dear life to keep from falling to the ice, panting for breath, and put his arm around me.

"Hey, Peter, you doing OK?"

Yes, Bobby, I was doing just fine.

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