Very early in the first year of my tenure with the Islanders, I was given the assignment of putting together a special section of Islander News for the retirement of Denis Potvin. The year was 1988, I was a lot younger and didn’t know any better, so I went in search of Bobby Orr to see if he would talk about the great Islanders defenseman.
When I contacted the legendary Orr at his business office, he was incredibly gracious. “Talk about Denis”? Orr said. “How much time do you have”?
The Islander News article was found last week by reader Ed Kelle. I cannot thank him enough for downloading the 22-year-old interview and sending it over…CB
From the June, 1988 edition of Islander News:
The comparisons are inevitable. As the Islander defenseman once said, “Sometimes, I felt like my middle name should’ve been Bobby.”
Denis Potvin and Bobby Orr. The comparisons started in the mid- Seventies when Potvin came into his own, and they continued to haunt him for the rest of his career. When he announced his retirement shortly before the start of the 1987-88 season, Potvin was asked by a reporter if he thought he was better than Orr. In a burst of spontaneous pride, he answered, “Yes, I think so.”
Instead of speculating over who was a better player, Islander News decided to go straight to the other horse’s mouth for his reflections on Potvin’s fabulous career. When contacted in his Boston-area business office, Orr seemed delighted to be given the opportunity to share his views.
Islander News: As we’re sure you’re aware, drawing comparisons between you and Denis Potvin has for a long time been the “in” thing to do in the New York newspapers. Do you find the comparisons legitimate?
Orr: I’ve always found it one of the highest honors I could get when someone – Denis or some other young star – comes around and they start sizing him up to me. But you’ll never get a definitive answer as to who’s better from me. Those judgments should be left to those on the outside.
IN: Okay, so if you won’t say who’s better, could you share some memories of when you played against Potvin?
Orr: When the Bruins played the Islanders, it was understood throughout our team than it was mandatory to shut Denis down. If we let him carry the puck at will, the Islanders could beat us. That’s not to say they were a one-man team, but Denis was definitely the dominating player for New York, and one of the best in the league.
Offensively, he was incredible. He was such a big guy who could skate like the wind. One of the reasons I think it’s ridiculous to try and decide who was better between the two of us is because we played under drastically different systems. In Al Arbour’s scheme, there was no way Denis was allowed the freedom to roam with the puck the way I did in Boston. If he could, who knows how many more points he might have had? Defensively, he was underrated. Potvin more than held his own.
IN: How about Denis as a person? Did you know him very well?
Orr: Of course, since we were on rival teams, we couldn’t get that close. But, when we played together on the 1976 Canada Cup, I got to know him and we became friendly. Denis is an extremely smart and personable guy. I was happy we got the opportunity to be teammates, if only for a couple of weeks.
IN: What do you think of Potvin’s decision to retire, although it appeared he still had a few good seasons left in him?
Orr: I admire it, and I marvel at it. He was able to leave the game while still playing very well and before he suffered any severe type of injury that could hold him back from leading a normal life. I’m sure he’s got a lot of bumps and bruises, but nothing too serious.
IN: Will the transition from the spotlight of the National Hockey League to his new role as a real estate company Vice-President be tough for him?
Orr: That’s really hard to say, since it depends on the personality. I’m sure what Denis brought with him and learned from the Islander organization will carry on into his future. My one question is this: because he left while he still was performing very well, will hockey be on his mind when next season starts? Will he be telling himself, “Well, maybe I could’ve played another year?” Those thoughts go through the mind of everyone who retires from the game they love.
IN: That aside, what do you see in his future?
Orr: I’m no psychic, but I can be sure of this: Denis Potvin will be in the Hall of Fame very soon and he will be tremendously successful in business. The brains and character he showed on the ice will serve him well off it. I wish him the best.
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