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Kevin Vantour and Kerry Keene with their book Number 4 Bobby Orr
After topping the bestseller lists in Canada with his autobiography and then a book of photos, it's understandable that Bobby Orr might be done writing more than just player contracts. But that doesn't mean there isn't a demand for more on Orr. Enter Kevin Vantour and Kerry Keene with Number 4 Bobby Orr.
It came out just before Christmas from Page Publishing, Inc., and, at 390 pages, it bills itself as “the most ambitious in-depth look at Orr and the Bruins' greatest decade.”
“Though there have been a few books about Orr (Steven Brunt, Craig MacInnis, Andrew Podneiks, and Orr himself), none had the type of in-depth detail about actual games that we wanted to delve into. After talking it over, we decided to do a chronological history of Orr’s 10 years with the Bruins,” explained Vantour in an email interview.
Publishers were hesitant too, after the two incredibly successful Orr-penned books in the last five years. “We felt that they did not realize that none of them went into the level of detail that we were exploring,” said Vantour.
It wasn't words but a photo that started Vantour, a first-time author, on the journey. The photo was of Bobby Orr's famous overtime goal to win the Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup over the St. Louis Blues, but this one was different than the famed shot by Ray Lussier that everyone knows. It had a full-body shot of referee Bruce Hood. Vantour shared it with Hood. “After sending Bruce the photo, we became good internet friends,” said Vantour. “But that event planted a seed about Orr’s career that germinated for a few years.” (Hood died in January 2018.)
The Orr story stayed just an idea until Vantour reached out to Keene in early 2015. A freelance writer and sports historian, Keene is a long-time resident of Raynham, Massachusetts, with a few books already under his belt: Tales from the Boston Bruins Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Bruins Stories Ever Told (2013); 1960: The Last Pure Season (2013); The Babe in Red Stockings: An in Depth Chronicle of Babe Ruth with the Boston Red Sox, 1914-1919 (1997). Keene's Bruins fandom dates to 1967 when he was 11 years old and, like much of the hockey world, became enamoured with Orr.
What makes this Bobby Orr book different than all the others? “You can find at least some detail about virtually every game he played. He is one of the very few athletes that warrant this type of study,” said Vantour, a member of the Society for International Hockey Research. He attended many of the games he writes about, as he went to his first Bruins game in 1961, and purchased season tickets for the 1968-69 Bruins’ season. He still has his ticket stub and season ticket card when Orr scored the flying goal.
The project changed during the writing process. “We originally had a lot of sidebar boxes with stories and info in the midst of the chapters,” explained Vantour. “We decided to move these to the Appendix. One of the aspects that we were trying to capture was what life around Orr was like from 1966 to 1976.”
The research was onerous but rewarding. “We were continually amazed at the superlatives directed at Orr from veteran players, coaches, general managers, and writers who had observed the NHL for a very long time,” he said. “It was particularly interesting to find quotes from old-time players and writers who had seen the league almost from its infancy and hear them compare Orr to past stars.”
The one missing name quoted, alas, is anything current from Orr himself, who declined to participate. “Orr is exceedingly modest, and might not have been terribly comfortable with a project that raves about him as much as this does,” said Vantour. (Anyone who has read Orr: My Story, written by Orr and an uncredited Vern Stenlund, can attest that he is modest about his accomplishments.)
Vantour still has the Bruins on his mind for a future project. About a year ago, he received a treasure trove of newspaper clippings relative to the Bruins from the 1920s through the 1950s. He’s trying to sort them in chronological order but is only about half way finished. “The secretary of war and the treasury (my wife Chris) suggest that I finish the project to prevent the house from burning down,” he cracked.
Matthew Blittner, on the right, with bookbuyer Daniel Greene at a recent book signing for Unforgettable Rangers: Games and Moments from the Press Box
A PRESS BOX LOOK AT THE RANGERS
As Matthew Blittner explains it, when you mentor under “The Maven” Stan Fischler, “a book is certainly in your future.” The future arrived recently for the young Blittner, a 25-year-old go-getter, who has been covering the New York Rangers for three seasons, with The Fischler Report, MSGNetworks.com, and NY Sports Day.
The result is Unforgettable Rangers: Games and Moments from the Press Box, a self-published book which details stories about the games and moments from a wide variety of media and a few players too.
It's a pretty cool list of contributors: Sam Rosen, Joe Micheletti, John Giannone, Kenny Albert, Don La Greca, Pat O’Keefe, John Davidson, Stan Fischler, Howie Rose, Allan Kreda, Dave Maloney, Rick Carpiniello, Al Trautwig, Larry Brooks, Dan Rosen, Derek Stepan, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Sal Messina, and Jeff Beukeboom.
“The project didn’t change much from the initial concept,” explained Blittner via email. “The only true changes were the inclusion of several former players (Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Derek Stepan, and Jeff Beukeboom). At first I was strictly going to keep to media members (broadcasters, writers, etc.), but the players’ stories gave an added dimension, so I added them.”
The effort was marked, in part, by it being the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Stanley Cup winning Rangers team.
“I wish I could have spoken to several former players from the ‘94 squad, and to a couple more former broadcasters, but there were several people who politely declined to be interviewed,” said Blittner, who has a Master’s degree in Sports Management from CUNY Brooklyn College.
He's been hustling the book as best he can, a necessity for a self-published project.
“The reception has tremendous thus far,” he said. “Everyone from fellow media members to fans has been very impressed with the final product. To quote my mentor Stan Fischler, 'this is a landmark piece of work.'”
- The Real Ogie! The Life and Legend of Goldie Goldthorpe just went on sale. We'll have something with author Liam Maguire down the road. Check it out at the Burnstown Publishing website: http://burnstownpublishing.com/product/the-real-olgie/
- For my upcoming book on the late Canadian actor Billy Van (The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Party Game, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, and countless others), I recently got to interview Hart Pomerantz. For those who don't recognize the name, he was the comedic partner of a pre-Saturday Night Live Lorne Michaels. Together, they did one of the funniest hockey sketches ever, which details the plight of the hockey world, as “Dutch Puck Disease” takes hold, resulting in a shortage of hockey pucks. King Clancy is even in the sketch playing along. Anyone ever seen it? Hart actually writes a bit about the sketch in an older blog post: http://earlpomerantz.blogspot.com/2011/09/puck-crisis.html
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