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January 25, 2013
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Fists to the Face: The Other Orr

Scott Taylor
Senior Writer, Fantrax

WINNIPEG

Colton Orr is not Bobby Orr. Not by a long stretch of even the craziest conspiracy-theory imagination.

In his day, Bobby Orr was speed and grace. Colton Orr is mayhem. He was once the heavyweight champion of the NHL and it’s quite obvious that he wants his title back.

Amazingly, this wonky skater with stone hands could be the catalyst if the Toronto Maple Leafs (a) make the playoffs and (b) take a run at that elusive Stanley Cup. 

Whether the anti-fighting crowd likes it or not, Colton Orr is back in Toronto and guess what? He’s going to fight. The movie Goon has nothing on Big Colt and he's a terrific pick if you're in a Fantasy Pool that includes fights, majors or penalty minutes.

Already this season, the Leafs 30-year-old, 6-foot-3, 225-pound rightwinger has already pounded on Buffalo’s 6-foot-8, 270-pound monster John Scott and Pittsburgh’s 6-foot-2, 205-pound Deryk Engelland. The Engelland win put an exclamation point on the Leafs 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on the road.

Sure, fighting might have fallen out of favor with the folks at CBC and Sports Illustrated but an old school coach like Randy Carlyle knows that the days (2005, 2006 and part of 2007) when officials called all the obstruction penalties when his skilled players were hooked, slashed and interfered with, are long gone.

If you don’t have a fighter these days, the opposition will run your boys out the end of the rink. Today, officials manage games. They aren’t there to protect the skilled players anymore. If a coach wants to change the energy in the building, he just sends his goon over the boards. Sorry, pacifists, it may not be right, but it is what it is.

And that’s why Colton Orr has a job. Granted, he’s only chalked up more than five minutes of ice time in two of his team’s for games this season, but that’s not the point. Orr is a tough guy. Period. And when he’s on the ice, it’s not like you don’t notice.

Of course, off the ice, the only way you’d have any idea that this 30-year-old Winnipegger is a classic NHL goon is indeed an “enforcer” is to look closely at his hands.

It’s the knuckles and joints that make a lasting impression. The finger joints on Orr’s massive right hand are gnarly. They’re giant, calcium knobs that look like they’ve been pounded into the hanging beef inside Rocky Balboa’s meat locker. The knuckle on the second finger of his right hand is as big as a golf ball. It’s the knuckle that cut Engelland for 15 stitches under his eye this past Wednesday night. 

It’s the hand of an affable young man who had his first Manitoba Junior Hockey League fight at 15 and now figures he’s had 500 more.

“At least 500, maybe 600,’’ he says matter-of-factly, “almost 100 in the NHL. But my hands don’t hurt. It’s not like I have arthritis or anything. I feel no pain or discomfort at all. It’s just how they look. I mean, hey I’ve had a few fights.”

Interestingly, when you talk to Orr, he doesn’t look at himself as an enforcer. He just sees himself as another guy in the NHL who does this job.

“I look after my guys,” he said. “It’s always been the way I’ve played hockey. We have guys who can score, guys with tremendous skill, but they’re also guys who can be taken advantage of. It’s my job to see that doesn’t happen.”

It’s interesting that in a day and age when commissioner Gary Bettman is doing everything he can to eliminate fighting from hockey, there might be more pure enforcers now than ever before.

After all, the team that led the NHL in fighting majors in 2011-12 – the New York Rangers with 65 – won the President’s Trophy as the top team in the NHL during the regular season. Boston, a team that finished with 102 points, first in the Northeast Division, was next with 61 fights.

As one GM puts it: “Fighters fill the role of the referees on those nights when the referees decide to let it go.”

And evidently, despite the 2005 mandate to “change in the interpretation of the rules,” there are plenty of those nights.

So this is a big year for Colton Orr, a guy who didn’t even start playing hockey until he was 13-years-old. Last season, after five years as a semi-regular in the NHL, Orr was sent to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies after only five games with the Leafs. According to the Bible of hockey fighting, hockeyfights.com, Orr had a down year in 2011-12 – one fight in the NHL and only five in an injury shortened AHL season. This year, he came to the Leafs brief training camp ready to battle and Randy Carlyle got what he was after. 

Orr’s value to a team is not measured in goals and points but in what he does to keep his team “in the game.” This year, Big Colt hasn’t been penciled into the Leafs lineup, he’s been inked in. And so far. The man with the gnarly knuckles has done his job.

“I know I have to work more on my game, but I’m getting better,” Orr said, one afternoon at Winnipeg’s Shaw Park as he watched the Winnipeg Goldeyes play baseball. “But I also know why I’m in the NHL. I know my responsibility and I know I have a place on this team.”

Scott is an author, broadcaster and journalist who travels extensively for Fantrax.

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