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Neil Stevens, Canadian Press
Published: Friday, October 13, 2006

TORONTO (CP) - Some sports books are easy to set aside because they are nothing but ego-stroking fluff pieces, but there is the occasional exception such as "Searching For Bobby Orr" by Stephen Brunt.

It grips the reader's attention and refuses to let go. Brunt will receive wide acclaim for this work, and it will be deserved both for his fluid writing and telling it like it really was in the days when Orr made such a huge impact in hockey on and off the ice.

The Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman shunned the project, telling Brunt he planned on writing an autobiography at a later date. Orr's rebuff was, in retrospect, the best thing that could have happened because Brunt was thus freed from any pressure to sugar-coat Orr's past. Many in Orr's inner circle also refused to talk to Brunt.

"It was an interesting challenge, a tricky one," Brunt explained during an interview.

There is an irony in the cold shoulders he got.

"The people who closed their door on me would have been people who would have had only good things to say about him - teammates, coaches, people who probably worship at the alter of Bobby Orr anyways and who would have told me what a great player and teammate he was," says Brunt. "It's not that there are deep dark secrets there.

"I didn't go out to find the worst thing the guy had ever done. That wasn't the idea. But I hit some barriers."

The Globe and Mail columnist opted to do a period piece on Orr. The environment from which Orr emerged, his rise to stardom and his influence on hockey are chronicled. It doesn't deal much with Orr's life after the 1976 Canada Cup tournament. David Remnick used this method in his excellent 1999 book on Muhammad Ali.

"I'll take whatever comes from the book," Brunt replies when asked about eventual feedback. "I believe in it. I'm not hiding from anybody."

Orr's emergence brought big-money contracts into hockey.

"He comes along coincidental with the great expansion and with the modernization of hockey as a business," says Brunt. "He's the poster boy in a lot of ways for the big expansion, and he's inextricably linked to the guy who was the first agent in hockey - one of the first agents in all sports.

"He brings (Alan) Eagleson into the game, Eagleson brings him to a different level of celebrity and wealth, and he becomes the greatest advertisement for the services of an agent. If you look at everything that fell out of that for hockey, Orr had a massive effect - probably more than anything he did stylistically on the ice."

A teen arrived from Parry Sound, Ont., and changed the sport.

"On a lot of levels, he was an insecure guy from Parry Sound who got dropped into an entirely different world," Brunt explains. "Parry Sound was like the 1940s.

"You go from the 1940s to Boston in 1966 and it's a different place. He was in a lot of ways trying to cover his tracks - not in any kind of horrible way. He's a smalltown, undereducated kid from Parry Sound who always realized that.

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