Bobby Orr’s teammates recall legendary Stanley Cup-clinching goal

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.”

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Derek Sanderson’s arms were raised in celebration, but he still need 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.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

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Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.