Ben Chiarot had seen many highlights from Bobby Orr.
The elegant and seemingly effortless rushes. His superior skill and vision. And of course, this horizontal celebration in the air after scoring the Stanley Cup goal for the Boston Bruins in 1970.
One thing Chiarot never did before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped much of the world was to sit and watch one of the Hall of Fame defender’s games start to end.
As broadcasters scramble to fill television schedules minus live sports – the NHL, like most other leagues and tours, was forced to suspend its season on March 12 – the Montreal Canadiens liner recently got this chance.
And being impressed with one of the best hockey players of all time was not Chiarot’s only meal.
“That’s about all I watched on TV, these rewind games,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s hilarious when you see Bobby Orr skating and a guy wrapped his stick around his waist all the way from the blue line to the blue line.
“Sometimes I think,” It wouldn’t be too bad if I could just tie my stick to someone and slow it down. “”
The NHL has turned to speed and skill through a series of rule changes resulting from the 2004-05 lockout following the so-called “puck era” when the defensive structure was stifled, the general reluctance of the referees to impose certain penalties and an outrageously large goalkeeper equipment brought the procedure to the point where a 1-0 lead often meant that the game was over.
And a 2-0 deficit? Forget that.
Before that, there were the difficult 1970s and the largely open 1980s. The equipment was radically different, especially for the goalkeepers, who occupied a fraction of the net compared to today, while the officials were constantly whistling their whistles.
In this era of social distancing, self-isolation and excessive surveillance amid the new coronavirus epidemic, NHL have more than a glimpse of this past.
“It’s hilarious to see how the game has changed in terms of equipment and penalties,” said 22-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner. “It’s kind of funny to see the hooks and the sockets, and how you are allowed to do it and get away with it.
“It’s definitely a different style of hockey these days. “
Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who played in the juniors in the late 1980s before five seasons with the miners, gets kicked by watching the broadcasts.
“What was that punishment at the time? ” he said. “It’s amazing to watch some of these games and just the manslaughter that happened every shift. “
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who like Marner was born in 1997, said things jumped out at him.
“The match has come so far,” he said. “I’m a big equipment guy, so the guys with the wooden sticks and the goalie equipment and everything – even the way they kept their goals back then compared to now – it’s is pretty cool. “
Treliving even caught a few old games with former NHL goaltender and current Flames commentator Kelly Hrudey.
“I’ve watched a lot,” said the Calgary general manager. “I can’t believe these pads. “
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he watched the 1980s hockey shows with emotion.
“You are a teenager and you are starting to realize,” he said. “This is where you start to see part of this real athletics start to change the game. These guys got faster and stronger.
“And that skill level has really changed. “
Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot was not there when the Quebec Nordiques – his father’s favorite team – played their last game in the spring of 1996, but he recently caught some of the tough rivalry franchise with Montreal.
“It was funny to see how different hockey was at the time and how the goalkeepers played, how much the defenders could hook the attackers and prevent them from going far or going to the net”, said Chabot, 23. “My dad was a huge Nordic fan, so it was fun to watch the game with him a bit. “
Mark Borowiecki and his wife welcomed their first child in February, which means that the murderous Senators’ blue liner did not watch much television. But he appreciates the highlights of the duc-it-out battles of past decades.
“The 90s are very nostalgic for me,” said the 30-year-old. “I grew up idolizing and adoring this style of play. It really is an interesting contrast to today. It makes you wonder as an athlete and as a fan, ‘Will the game evolve in a cycle?’
“Are we going to go back to hockey, not completely like that, but something a little more similar where you can slow the guys down (and) protect your teammates? “
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers said he was remarkable for the lack of penalties and the jaw-dropping physical game of days gone by.
“Watching the game at the time was just a lot more difficult,” he said. “With the same game, there are so many differences. “
But the 30-year-old said the changes had helped boost the player’s unrivaled skills today.
“You always hear that you want guys to be good skaters, because that’s what you have to use to try to defend yourself – your feet,” said Myers. “As soon as you start grabbing and grabbing, you’re in the box for two minutes. “
Not like the good old days.
– With files from Donna Spencer
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 19, 2020.