Pushing the baby stroller with his lovely wife Sabrina through the swanky shopping district of Yorkville in downtown Toronto, Colton Orr
looks to be the poster child for peace and contentment.
Baby Charlotte sleeps soundly as her parents enjoy a sunny afternoon stroll. Her father, meanwhile, seems a million miles removed from his job that puts him in harm's way daily.
Orr - talk about a hockey name! - has scraped and clawed his way back to the NHL. At one time he was one of the most feared fighters in the league. It looked as though his time had come and gone after the Toronto Maple Leafs
demoted him to the Marlies of the American Hockey League.
Once seemingly invincible, Orr, like so many tough guys, had become the victim of a concussion. He'll joke that he has had just one, but you know that's not the truth. Still, he was determined to keep playing, even though many in the Maple Leafs organization cringed every time he dropped his gloves.
Will his next fight be his last fight? What kind of damage is he doing when he gets struck in the head by the fist of an opponent? Will he face complications as he ages from the damage inflicted upon him during his NHL fighting days?
Time will tell.
For now, fighting is what Orr does. Having signed a two-year contract to continue in his occupation as Maple Leafs top enforcer, Orr will be paid $925,000 US a year to fight. That's a slight drop in pay from the $1 million a year he earned the past four seasons.Living in moment
He said he simply cannot afford to think about what might be down the road. One punch could end it all.
"I can't think like that," Orr told CBCSports.ca. "I know what got me here to the NHL and that is my role. I try to improve to become a better, more well-rounded player, but I've got to play as hard as I can and not think about things like that."
Colton Orr did not even begin playing hockey until he was 11 years old. He knew right away his bread and butter was his ability to intimidate.
"I was a pretty tough kid, Orr said. "When I was 16 and playing with the St. Boniface Saints I think I had 30 fights and 300 penalty minutes. I have always played that role. I just would do whatever I had to do to make it to the NHL. I never thought I would have ever made it this far and that I would have lasted as long as I have when I started playing junior hockey."
Orr fought his way through the Western Hockey League and then signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins, a team quite familiar with his surname.
"For a while, my nickname was Bobby, which is soooo obvious," Orr recalled. "Bobby Orr's group represents me so to be associated with him and his group is an absolute privilege and honour. Through all my troubled times he was very supportive and a big part of helping me get back to the NHL."
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when his troubles began, but a probable date could be Oct. 13, 2010. That is the day Orr was rocked with a solid punch by Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland.
"I never thought it was going to be the end, but I knew it was pretty severe," Orr said. "I just tried to make sure I recovered fully and then put enough work in so I could continue to play."Crossroads
Orr continued to play, but his usefulness as an enforcer was in doubt. The Maple Leafs ultimately decided to send him to the minors. Orr was at a crossroads. He could have moped and continued to collect his major league salary since he was on a one-way contract, or he could try to battle his way back to the NHL. He chose the latter.
"With Colton, it was simple when he got sent to us for me," said former Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, who now coaches the Edmonton Oilers. "We had a guy come in that had not played for a while who was down and out of shape. We had a very frank heart-to-heart discussion and I told him while he had been in Toronto I felt he had never got up to speed to where he was when he played with the New York Rangers.
"I remember him with the Rangers playing decent minutes and he was a pain in the ass to play against. It wasn't because he could knock somebody's block off, but because he was skating and getting in on the forecheck. He had confidence. I wanted him to get back to that, but I told him that meant there was going to be a lot of work ahead."
Orr bought into the program.
He didn't fight as often in the AHL, but he knew to get back to the NHL that would have to be part of his repertoire. Orr has fought 113 times in the NHL. He has fought many, many more times in junior and the minors, including 36 times in 2003-04 and 33 times in 2004-05 in the AHL.
Being demoted to the Marlies was a blow to the belly, but Orr was determined to get back.
"It was a tough thing to go down there, but as soon as I joined the Marlies I talked to Dallas and he said he'd give me an important role right off the bat," Orr said. "He continued to push me every day on and off the ice and I had great support from him and my family. I had to continue to work hard and prove that I could make it back to the NHL."
Orr was second in the NHL in fighting majors with 13 last season; one fewer than B.J. Crombeen of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Orr led the NHL in penalty minutes with 155. Averaging six minutes 23 seconds of ice time per game, Orr chipped in a modest one goal and four points for a Leafs team that very nearly eliminated the Stanley Cup finalist Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.Loved, scorned
Those who make a living fighting in professional hockey are loved by some and scorned by others. Bob (Big Daddy) McGill knows all about fighting in the NHL, having dropped the gloves 142 times in his career. He admires what Orr has done to get back to the NHL.
"You have to have a real mindset of thinking you're the toughest guy in the world," McGill said. "The one thing I will say is, at the end of the day, it was a break for Colton Orr to go down to the AHL.
"Dallas Eakins really gave him an appreciation for working on his skills and conditioning to be able to play a regular shift in the game. He looks like a totally different player out there now. He skates so well and his hands are better. He has confidence in his game."
Orr credits his wife of five years, Sabrina, for being there for him during troubled times.
"She is always there for me," Orr said. "She's very encouraging and supportive for whatever I want to do. She was a big part of me getting back to the NHL. We have an 11-month-old daughter, Charlotte, and it's my motivation to be able to provide for my family and take care of them."
A leg injury kept Orr out of the Maple Leafs first six pre-season games, but when he returns, he knows what his role is.
"I've always been a tough guy who looks after his teammates, but I also want to be a good checking forward who is good defensively and a leader," he said. "The leadership is the biggest part of the role that I want to provide now. Every day I know that I have to work hard and continue to prove myself. Every day for me is a tryout. I have to work as hard as I can every day just to stay in this league."
As for what the future holds, Orr doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about what may be. There is a price to be paid for doing the type of work he has chosen, but he lives in the moment.
"As of right now I feel great," Orr said. "I don't have any side effects so I'm not going to worry about it right now. I can't turn back what I have done in my career at this point so I'll just have to wait and see what happens."
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