Every hockey fan recognizes the image. Bobby Orr flies through the air as he celebrates the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
With the exception of perhaps Paul Henderson being embraced by Yvan Cournoyer after scoring the goal in Moscow that won the 1972 Summit Series for Team Canada, or maybe the photo of Sidney Crosby celebrating his 2010 Olympic golden goal, it may be the most famous hockey photo ever taken. It is certainly the most famous NHL photo ever taken.
The photo was taken by Ray Lussier of the Boston Record-American. It was Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 10th, 1970 – some 50 years ago. The photo created a lasting image of Orr, flying above the ice, as a hockey superhero. Every hockey fan has seen it. The photo was the inspiration behind the statue of Bobby Orr.
The story of the photo is almost more compelling than the moment. The overtime goal gave the Bruins the Cup in a four-game sweep. Except for that goal, there were no moments that have stood the test of time as memorable. Some hockey experts say Lussier’s photo is the only reason the 1970 Stanley Cup is so fondly remembered by fans of the Bruins or Bobby Orr.
Lussier was using a Nikon F 35mm camera. He had no special equipment that today’s photographers have. He just caught the right moment. In the first minute of the overtime period, Orr passed the puck to Derek Sanderson, who sent it right back to him as he went to the net. Orr took a quick shot that seemed to catch Blues goalie Glenn Hall off guard. Right after he shot the puck, Blues defenceman Noel Picard, who had stick blade around Orr’s left foot, sent Orr airborne out of frustration with a trip. He was only in the air for a split second. It was long enough for Lussier to capture the moment forever.
Lussier wasn’t even supposed to be sitting in that spot in the Boston Gardens when the goal was scored. The photographer who was sitting there got up to get a cold beer. It was 93 degrees Fahrenheit inside the Gardens that day. Lussier jumped int his seat. The overtime started, and Lussier was in the right place at the right time. As the story goes, the photographer returned with his beer and kicked Lussier out of his seat so he could get shots of the celebration and the handshake.
“It’s okay,” Lussier allegedly replied. “I’ve got what I need.”
Picard, who sent Orr flying through the air, finished his playing career in Atlanta, and eventually moved back home to Montreal.
“I am asked to sign that photo more than any other photo of me or hockey cards of me,” Picard said while he was a guest at a card show in Montreal more than a decade ago. Picard, who passed away in 2017, had moved back home to Montreal but was often back in St. Louis.
Many collectors who have Orr’s signature on the photo also try to get goalie Glenn Hall to sign the photo. “Mr. Goalie,” popular among all hockey fans of the era, has always been appreciative of the moment’s place in hockey history.
“I should have had that one,” Hall said, matter of factly, during a sports collectibles convention in Toronto in the early 2000s. “I wasn’t screened and it wasn’t a particularly good shot. It’s just one that I should have saved but didn’t.”
Hall smiled for a moment as he looked at the image he was signing.
“I still give Bobby a hard time about that photo every time I see him,” he said, smiling. “I told him he was sent flying in the air for so long that I was showered and changed and waiting for a cab in front of the Gardens by the time he landed.”
One of the Bruins who roared off the bench for the celebration after Orr’s goal was Rick Smith. A native of Kingston, Smith was a young defenceman on that Bruins team. Although he was not known as a scorer, Smith scored the game’s first goal and then set up Johnny Bucyk’s tying goal that sent the goal into overtime.
“None of us saw him fly through the air at the time,” Smith said. “We were on the bench, and I remember seeing the puck go in the net, and we all jumped up and cheered, and then piled onto the ice. The flying through the air thing happened after the fact, and none of us noticed. I don’t think anyone would have noticed if it wasn’t for Ray Lussier’s photo.”
On Saturday, Smith and a number of his teammates took part in a session on Zoom hosted by Hall of fame hockey writer Kevin Dupont that featured several of his teammates. The two-hour session went up on YouTube and is called Big Bad Hockey – 50 Years Remembered.
While Orr and Phil Esposito were the stars, the team is what all of the 1970 Bruins remember.
“As great as Bobby Orr was, the team was so much more,” Smith said. “And Bobby will always be the first person to say that. He always talks about the team, and he always puts the team first.”
Smith said that one of the players who had a huge influence on the team was goalie Eddie Johnston.
“He was a powerful guy in the dressing room,” Smith said. “Johnny Bucyk was our captain on the ice and in the locker room, but behind the scenes, it was Eddie Johnston who would help guys and mentor them. He was a great mentor for Bobby Orr.”
One of the most special moments of the Stanley Cup celebration was when Ted Green joined them on the ice. During a pre-season game in Ottawa eight months earlier, Green and St. Louis Blues forward Wayne Maki engaged in a bloody stick fight. Green nearly lost his life in the altercation, suffering a fractured skull and brain damage.
“He was popular among the players and he was tough,” Smith said. “Even though he was injured all year, he was always around and he was part of the team. It meant a lot that he came onto the ice and celebrated with us.”
Although Green was not officially part of the team, the players made sure he got his share of the money for winning the Cup. They also made sure his name was engraved on the Cup.
Another player Smith mentioned was Garnett “Ace” Bailey, a talented young forward who was killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York. Bailey was on United Airlines Flight 175 that was flown into the World Trade Center South Tower.
“We had some great left-wingers on that team,” Smith said. “We had Don Marcotte and Wayne Carlton. Ace Bailey was the best prospect among all of them.”
Smith recalled a story of Bailey when he rode shotgun on a line with Wayne Gretzky during Gretzky’s first year in Edmonton.
“For some reason, Glen Sather decided not to play Bailey, and there was a guy on the other team running at Gretzky throughout the first period,” Smith said. “Bailey pulled Gretzky aside before the second period, and told him, ‘Get him over near our bench.’ Sure enough, Gretzky is skating by the Oilers bench, and all of a sudden, the guy who was giving him a hard time is lying on the ice. He went down like a sack of potatoes. So did Bailey, hiding behind the bench. Bailey got him with a butt end, and absolutely no one saw what happened.”
Smith said the run toward the 1970 Stanley Cup had been in the making for about three years. The team kept getting better. In 1967, the Bruins acquired Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield in a six-player trade in 1967 with Chicago. Smith said the trade was the start of the run toward an eventual Stanley Cup. It was Bobby Orr’s goal that would end Boston’s 29-year Stanley Cup drought.
“The great thing about that photo is that it captured a moment in history,” Smith said. “People forget how close we were to getting to the finals in 1969, and that Bobby Orr, a defenceman, led the NHL with 120 points that year. Bruins fans suffered for a long time, and that’s why that photo of that goal is so important.”
Smith said that over the years, Orr has been extremely gracious with Bruins fans who remember the goal.
“Bobby Orr is a very respectful and kind person,” Smith said. “For years people have asked him to sign that photo, and he understands the importance of it. He knows that photo represents a moment in history, and by signing it for Bruins fans and hockey fans, it personalizes a piece of hockey history for them.”
The Bruins’ 50th anniversary celebration was supposed to take place on March 24. The Bruins will be holding it in the fall, or when NHL play with fans begins again.
Smith said that even though Ray Lussier was never a Bruin and he passed away nearly three decades ago, his photo will be front and center during the celebration.
“He was in the right place at the right time,” Smith said. “We all were that day.”