Friday Fisticuffs: Colton Orr Is Persistence Personified

There was a lot of attention paid to Colton Orr in January. Did he deserve a place on the Leafs 23-man roster? Was there room for someone like him? Someone who wasn’t able to prove himself at the NHL level last season? Someone who had sat out for the majority of the 2010-11 season recovering from a concussion suffered in a battle gone wrong?

FF_20130426_ColtonOrrPPIndeed, following the 2011 fight with George Parros which ended with him landing face first on the ice underneath his opponent, he had sat out for 244 days before starting the 2011-12 season. He had been cleared by doctors, he was ready to go. But he didn’t get too much of a chance to prove it at the NHL level before being sent down to the Toronto Marlies and coach Dallas Eakins.

“Even though it was probably a great disappointment for him to be sent to the American League, it was almost a necessary thing to happen for him because it let us basically pull down that reset button for 10 seconds and this hockey player restarted himself and a new guy popped out,” Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins told TSN.” (tsn.ca)

Indeed, Orr’s reset button was flipped and by the start of training camp this past January he looked like an entirely different hockey player.

“I was a lot bigger to try and fight more,” Orr conceded to TSN.ca, noting a previously beefed-up top half, “but now I know you’ve got to be able play and the game’s changing a bit so I leaned out, put on a lot of muscle and really worked on my skating and my conditioning.” (tsn.ca)

Eakins, who has also been able to get Nazem Kadri on the right track for the Leafs, had an excellent point regarding the work that Orr had done to prepare for the season.

“For me it goes like this,” Eakins continued, “if the toughest guy in the NHL, his name’s Joe Blow and he’s 240 pounds, he’s the toughest guy in the NHL. And then three months later he’s 225 pounds, do we fear him any less?”(tsn.ca)

Eakin’s perspective sounds like such common sense now when considering Orr, doesn’t it? But many in Leafs Nation scoffed at it for sounding ridiculous then.

Randy Carlyle, who had been emphasizing the players’ chances to “earn” their keep during training camp, was also confident in Orr and felt he had found a place on the team.

“We want our players to be comfortable when going out on the ice, and Colton Orr brings protection,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “He brings a good work ethic. He brings strong leadership qualities … and, he’s earned it.” (nationalpost.com)

The season started with Orr on the roster. Fans grumbled. Maybe his speed was up a bit, sure he looked different, but they needed to see what he could do. The Leafs needed more.

They also needed some air after collectively holding their breath during the Leafs season opener against Montreal when Mike Brown took on Brandon Prust. Immediately following the fight the camera panned right over to Orr who was, like everyone else, surveying the situation. Out of everyone on the ice and benches, Hockey Night In Canada wanted to capture his reaction. And then the criticism. Where was Orr?

Two nights later, during the Maple Leafs home opener, Orr showed up in bout against Buffalo Sabre John Scott. It was a sight that silenced a number of critics. A 6’8″ Scott, standing 6″ taller than Orr, being taken down by a wily veteran who had shown that in his come back he’d clearly lost none of his abilities. (Scroll to bottom to see video.)

The season has continued with Orr doing what he’s done all along, playing the style of hockey that he knows how to play best, and staying focused no matter the number of naysayers.

The Leafs fan base has warmed up to the idea of Orr on the ice for the team, maybe as he compliments the new look of the Leafs, a look that Carlyle had been going for when he took over as head coach in March of 2012. When Carlyle came in he immediately noted that the team lacked confidence, and he has worked vigorously to change that.

“When you’re the butt of jokes in the hockey world it’s not fun and we take that very serious,” said the Leaf coach. “What we’ve tried to do is create an atmosphere we can be proud of, and try to earn respect back for the organization. We’ve taken that upon ourselves. Every guy in there has the same mandate.” (thestar.com)

The team has certainly done that. Making the playoffs for the first time in 9 years is certainly nothing to scoff at.

Neither is leading the entire league in fights, something they have done since well before the midway point of the season. Who’s at the top of the list? Colton Orr.

Orr has persisted throughout the entire season. His persistence, dedication and commitment to the team have reached the point where some are starting to say he “should get serious consideration as the Leafs’ Masterton Trophy nominee.” (torontosun.com)

Regardless of whether or not he gets the nomination, he’s certainly earned his keep on the team this season and is arguably playing the best hockey of his entire career.

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Buffalo Sabres at Toronto Maple Leafs. January 21, 2013. 1pd 02:34.

Colton Orr, Toronto Maple Leafs
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 222
Shoots: Right
Born: 3 Mar 1982  (Age 31)
Birthplace: Winnipeg, MB, Canada

John Scott, Buffalo Sabres
Height: 6′ 8″
Weight: 270
Shoots: Left
Born: Sep 26, 1982  (Age 30)
Birthplace: Edmonton, AB, Canada

The first fight of the year for both of these enforcers happened during the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener against the Buffalo Sabres. It was the first NHL bout for Orr since October 20, 2011 but even with 6 inches on him, John Scott can’t match him. Orr was dominant in this battle, one which served to get him on track and on the path to reestablishing the respect he once held league wide. This was just the beginning of Orr’s success this season.

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