What’s missing from the hockey of today? For sure, there is less hitting than in the old days and fighting is more an anomaly than commonplace. But for someone who grew up watching hockey in the 1970s, I can’t help but feel there is something else missing in today’s game. Something less tangible.
When I hearken back to my days as a kid, emulating the old stars of hockey while playing shinny on frozen ponds or slapping around a ball in the back alley, something permeates my thoughts. I know what is missing in today’s grand game of hockey. It’s Bobby. Not any particular Bobby, just the collective group. There are no great Bobbys playing the game anymore. They’ve been replaced by Connors and Waynes and, I suppose, Roberts.
If you asked a kid in the ’70s who his favourite hockey player was, there was a good chance the reply would include Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull or maybe even Bobby Clarke. These weren’t just three of the great Bobbys of the day, they were three of the greatest players of the day, period.
Not all the Bobbys were superstars, but it seemed most teams had a Bobby Schmautz, Bobby Rousseau or Bobby Smith. Even the shortened version of Bob would still reveal some stalwarts like Bob Kelly and Bob Gainey. I mean, who else could score an overtime goal while skating on a broken ankle? Only a Bob, of course, and Bob Baun did just that in the 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Any way you looked at it, Bobby was the name in hockey in the ’70s and Stompin’ Tom Connors immortalized this in 1973 when he penned the classic, The Good Ol’ Hockey Game, now played in hockey arenas around the world. Someone roars, Bobby scores! In the good ol’ hockey game.
A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that the roster of all the great teams of the early days in the NHL had a Bob or a Bobby. The Toronto Maple Leafs roster since 1917 has included 24 Bobs, including two Bobbys. By contrast, they have had eight Roberts. The Montreal Canadiens have had 18 Bobs, including five Bobbys, and eight Roberts.
Even though the Canadian team for the Summit Series of 1972 only had one Bobby on its active roster (Bobby Orr was out because of bad knees), the Russians had none and we all know how that series turned out. But the Russian team did introduce us to a whole roster of names with which we weren’t familiar. The Soviets dressed eight Alexanders, five Vladimirs, four Yuris and three each of Yevgeny and Vyacheslav. Perhaps one of these was the Soviet version of Bobby back in the day. Who knew that these would soon become standard in the vernacular of modern-day National Hockey League play-by-play?
As much magic having a Bobby on your team might bring, a roster of them is no guarantee of success. A look at the historical list of the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks reveals that both teams have had nine Bobs, including three Bobbys on the Flames and two on the Canucks. Yet, there is only one Stanley Cup between them. The Tampa Bay Lightning, on the other hand, have had only two Bobs and no Bobbys in their history. They have had five Alexanders, two Vladimirs and one Vyacheslav, and have managed to hoist three Stanley Cups. My, how the times have changed.
Perhaps it’s just melancholy and nostalgia that makes me think something so simple as a Bobby is what is missing from today’s game. I’m still an avid fan of the present-day Bobbyless hockey, but I can’t help but wonder: If Stompin’ Tom wrote his classic lyrics today would we be singing, Someone roars, Connor scores! At the good ol’ hockey game.
Chris Himsl is a retired engineer who spends his time writing and pondering all stuff that is not engineering.