Jamie Benn (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
There’s a good chance Larry Orr would have cringed at Jamie Benn’s goal celebration when he scored in overtime to give the Dallas Stars a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night.
The goal came with 2:28 remaining in overtime and capped a wild Dallas rally. It also padded Benn’s lead in both goals (nine) and points (17) in his quest for his second straight scoring title. And the instant after he fired the puck over Ryan Miller’s glove hand to seal the win, the usually subdued Benn looked to the heavens and pointed several times.
That was for Larry Orr. Most of us have never heard of Larry Orr, but anyone who has played minor hockey probably knows somebody just like him. Orr, who died of cancer in September and was remembered with a celebration of his life earlier in the day, is one of those people who are the lifeblood of minor hockey in Canada. Everyone associated with the game in the small Victoria suburb of North Saanich, where Jamie Benn and his Stars teammate and brother Jordie grew up and played, not only knew Larry Orr, but was almost certainly touched by his kindness.
Larry Orr was the kind of person who, when it came to doing things for kids, got things accomplished. When a local sporting goods store closed its doors in the 1980s, Orr bought the skate sharpening machine and turned his garage essentially into a hockey pro shop, where people could bring their skates any time of the day. Orr rarely locked the shop, which would allow players to pick up their skates at 5:30 in the morning for an early practice. It helped that he lived around the corner from the Panorama Recreation Centre, the town’s hockey hub and the home of the Peninsula Minor Hockey Association.
“Larry was the kind of guy who never wanted any accolades or acknowledgement for anything he ever did,” said association president Paul Warmenhoven. “He and another volunteer in town basically built a baseball park for the kids. The biggest thing about Larry is that if he was on your team, he was all in.”
Orr worked for a number of years as the equipment manager for the Peninsula Panthers, a Jr. B team where both Jamie and Jordie Benn played, as well as Vancouver Canucks draft pick Taylor Ellington and Greg Scott, who has played the last three seasons in Sweden. But Orr did not just cater to the elite. He always seemed to have extra equipment around and sharpen skates for free for those who could not afford it. Orr also had a steady supply of Double Bubble gum, which kids would take in handfuls despite requests that they take only one at a time.
The garage was also a shrine to hockey in North Saanich, with hats and sweaters and pictures of local teams and players. “It was an awesome little shrine to everything hockey,” Warmenhoven said. “And he was just as proud whether it was an atom team winning a tournament or Jamie Benn winning the Art Ross Trophy.”
North Saanich was awarded the title of Kraft Hockeyville in Canada this fall, which gave it the privilege of hosting a pre-season game between the Canucks and San Jose Sharks Sept. 21. Orr, who was in the latter stages of cancer at the time of the game, was able to get to the arena to do the ceremonial puck drop along with his son Derek prior to the game. Larry Orr died just over a week later.
“I was behind the San Jose bench and the guys on the Sharks were all confused,” Warmenhoven said. “They were all wondering why this guy was getting a standing ovation.”
Larry Orr was getting a standing ovation because he deserved one. Like so many other people who make this game possible at the grassroots level, Orr was involved in hockey and other minor sports, not to create his own fiefdom or for personal recognition, but for all the right reasons. That’s why Jamie and Jordie Benn always made a point of dropping in on him when they visited in the off-season. And that’s why Jamie Benn, a guy who usually just goes about his business and celebrates goals as if he’s scored a few before, broke his habit and celebrated the way he did. He was celebrating for Larry Orr, but he might as well have been celebrating for the thousands of other dedicated people who make this game special.