Two weeks before Christmas 1969, Wayne Carleton was informed he was traded to the Boston Bruins. The 23-year-old winger, nicknamed “Swoop,” had spent the past four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, mostly shuttling back-and-forth between the minors. In Boston, he got an opportunity, playing 42 games the rest of that season, the second-most of his career.
Carleton ended up on the left wing of Harry Sinden’s “checking line” with Derek Sanderson and Ed Westfall. The trio were so good together that the Bruins head coach put them on the ice to start overtime in Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Lous Blues.
Sinden’s reasoning? He believed that most overtime’s ended early and with Blues head coach Scotty Bowman throwing out Red Berenson, Larry Keenan and Tim Ecclestone — a line that had combined for 17 goals and 32 points in 16 playoff games — it was the Bruins’ threesome’s job to keep them off the board.
“We were quite efficient,” Carleton told NBC Sports. “We had two good lines and then our line, the checking line, and we dominated that series. There was no question. That’s why we started the overtime, because we had dominated St. Louis in every shift of all four games. That’s why Harry [Sinden] picked us to go out in the overtime. Proved him right.”
Sinden’s thinking was that his checking line could withstand whatever the Blues would start with, then he could get his big guys — Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge — out there to ice the series and win the Cup.
Overtime didn’t last very long. 40 seconds, in fact. The Blues could not muster an attack as the Bruins kept pressing. Orr would dump the puck in deep from center ice and it was Carleton who out-skated Ecclestone and centered a pass out in front of Glenn Hall’s net, but Sanderson couldn’t get good wood on it. The puck would remain in the St. Louis zone as Boston attempted three more shots to no avail.
That third try, off the stick of Sanderson, rung around the right boards to a pinching Orr, who kept it in and dished it off to Sanderson, who was parked behind the net. As soon he fed Sanderson, Carleton circled around and headed toward the slot as a second passing option.
History has shown us repeatedly who Sanderson chose to receive his pass. But Carleton likes to joke that the legend of “The Goal” wouldn’t have been the same if he were the hero.
“I was right behind [Blues defenseman Noel Picard],” Carleton recalled. “People say ‘If the rebound had come out, you’d have probably scored it because everybody was turned the other way.’ I said, ‘If I’d have scored [the goal] wouldn’t have been famous.'”
After Orr scored and flew threw the air — thanks to some help from Picard — Carleton was the first one to grab him as the celebrations inside Boston Garden began.
“He landed and I was right there,” said Carleton “It was fun. Great memories. It was certainly a signature event and the right guy scored it.”
Derek Sanderson’s arms were raised in celebration, but he still needed to take a quick peek in the direction of the referee. The Bruins forward was ready to celebrate his first Cup victory but just wanted to be sure there was no penalty about to be called to negate the goal.
Referee Bruce Hood’s arm was raised, but he was pointing toward the Blues’ net, signaling a good goal.
In the build up to the Orr goal, it was Sanderson who had two chances to be the Game 4 hero, but his two shots in overtime failed to beat Hall.
“It pissed me off,” Sanderson joked. “I said [to Bobby] ‘Why didn’t you pass the puck to me?’ He said, ‘You got a couple shots. Don’t blame me, you hit the post, it came to me, you went into the corner and I passed it to you.'”
Sanderson’s pass capped off a memorable season for Orr, who won the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy (120 points), Norris Trophy, and Conn Smythe Trophy (nine goals, 20 points) that season. The Bruins defenseman was playing on a different level than the rest of the NHL. His teammates knew he couldn’t be stopped, which is why when one of Sanderson’s missed overtime shots went around the boards to Orr’s side, he knew Orr would be there to get the puck while he went and set up behind the Blues net.
“I was an out for somebody [in that position] and then Bobby went by Ecclestone,” Sanderson recalled. “He jumps past Ecclestone. Ecclestone’s waiting for the puck to come around the boards. Bobby doesn’t wait that long. That was the genius of it. He jumped past him. But if he misses it, or I missed the pass, there’s nobody but St. Louis Blues going the other way. But Bobby didn’t miss.”
Ecclestone’s decision was the first of two bad decisions by Blues players in that sequence. The second came from defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot, who left Orr to defend Sanderson as the Bruins blue liner was left all alone as he moved to the front of the net. With Picard stuck in his spot between the faceoff circles, that gave Orr plenty of room to complete the give-and-go play with Sanderson, something the pair did a lot while on the ice together.
“[Talbot] should have never have come to me behind the net. He reached his stick out and that made him absolutely dead in the water,” Sanderson says. “I know it was a mistake because I’ve made it. … When he came to me, his odds were he couldn’t stop Bobby, he was out of position and so he went and tried to stop me, which was fool-hardy. He should have taken me from the front of the net when I missed the shot. That’s where he missed his opportunity.
“That’s the difference between [other players] and Orr. Orr didn’t stand still. He was always anticipating.”
When you look at Ray Lussier’s famous photo Orr, obviously, stands out, and your eyes might focus in on Picard’s assist on Orr’s leap or even shift over to Hall, who was crumbling back into his net. But if you peer to the right side of the image, squint your eyes a tad, you’ll notice Ed Westfall covering the right point.
Westfall was a winger, but he actually started his NHL career as a defenseman, and found himself in that position later in his career while with the New York Islanders. Two-way play was one his strengths, so it was an instinctive decision when Westfall raced to cover for Orr after he pinched in as the puck rung around the boards to right side.
“We did that regularly,” recalled Westfall. “It was a normal reaction when Orr went offensive, which was a great deal, then I just automatically fell back to cover.”
With Orr’s defense partner, Don Awrey, covering the left point and Westfall on the right, the Bruins would have been well-prepared if Sanderson’s pass to Orr was intercepted and the Blues transitioned the other way.
But Westfall’s defensive needs weren’t needed in the moment and he had a clear view of the famous goal from his place on the ice. But even if the pass failed and sent the Blues the other way, Orr’s extraordinary skating ability would have allowed him to get back in time to help prevent a scoring chance.
“What’s the primary fundamental in hockey? It’s skating,” Westfall said. “He was one of the greatest skaters I ever saw. Not only for speed, but for power and ability to be able to think as quick as you’re moving. That’s the hard for a lot of us was if I could move that fast would my brain be able to keep up? Probably not.”
Don Awrey doesn’t have a presence in any of the two famous photographs of Orr’s Cup-winning goal. The 26-year-old stay-at-home defenseman was afraid of getting caught up ice, so he focused on his defensive responsibilities and let Orr work his magic all over the ice.
“I’m not in that picture. I’m back in my position that I should have been,” Awrey said “I was back there. Bobby was out of position, but thank goodness he was out of position.”
The self-described “most defensive defenseman there ever was” knew his role and played it well. So when Sinden started the overtime in hopes of keeping the Blues’ quiet offensively, Awrey was the perfect guy to have out there.
“You didn’t start me to score the winning goal,” he joked.
The pairing of Awrey and Orr was a perfect one. They complemented one another, and Awrey quickly got used to seeing Orr out of position all over the ice.
“I knew he had [No. 4] on his back because that’s all I saw,” said Awrey, who’s worked as an off-ice official tracking shots for last 20 years with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. “He was up the ice all the time. All I did was see No. 4 go whizzing by me. Sometimes he’d pass me between me and the boards on my side of the ice.”
To Awrey, Orr was the best hockey player he ever played with, and Awrey was a member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team and the 1975-76 Cup winning Montreal Canadiens. As the rest of the NHL discovered Orr’s skating ability, hockey sense and knowledge of the game was second to none.
Forty-nine years after that series, Awrey’s memories isn’t what it used to be, but it’s impossible to forget “The Goal.”
“I would have liked to have scored the winning goal, then I would have had all those accolades that Bobby got,” Awrey joked. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.