BOSTON -- They debuted 30 years apart and were the greatest players of their generation for the Boston Bruins. Which one was the best? Even Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt can't decide.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are having the privilege of seeing hockey's greatest," Schmidt said of Orr. "And it wasn't only by my word that everybody knew he was the greatest. It didn't matter who you talked to. He was the man."
Asked if Schmidt was the greatest Bruins player ever, Orr said, "I would go with that, yes I would. I would go with you, Milty, being the greatest Bruin ever.
"When he played, I didn't see Milty play. I've seen a little video, heard a lot about him. He wasn't very big but he had a (big) heart on the ice. That's how he played. He was a great player. He's a wonderful individual. He's a great man and a great friend to all of us."
Orr and Schmidt were at TD Garden on Thursday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Orr's rookie season and the 80th of Schmidt's by dropping the ceremonial first puck before the home opener against the New Jersey Devils.
A video honoring the Hockey Hall of Famers was played, and Orr and Schmidt, wearing their Bruins jerseys, made their way to center ice, where the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
"I've known Milt longer than 50 years," Orr, 68, said. "Milty scouted me when I was 12 years old. He's been a great friend, he's been my coach, my general manager, and most importantly my very good friend. I'm thrilled to be with him here tonight on the opening of the Bruins season."
Video: NJD@BOS: Orr and Schmidt drop the opening puck
Orr played 10 seasons with the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cup championships, three Hart Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies and eight Norris Trophies. Schmidt played 16 seasons for the Bruins, also winning the Stanley Cup twice. Schmidt was Bruins coach for 11 seasons and the general manager during the Stanley Cup seasons of 1970 and 1972, with Orr.
Schmidt also was the architect of the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston.
Orr and Schmidt, 98, still inspire awe in the current Bruins.
"I think everyone who plays hockey understands how big he was for the game, how incredible he was as a player," forward Brad Marchand said of Orr. "Every time I see him I still get nervous around him and don't know what to say to him. It's a lot of fun seeing him around. He's a legend of the game, and he always will be, especially in Boston. So it'll be a lot of fun to see him out there tonight."
It's been 50 years since Orr first stepped on the ice for the Bruins. But the memories are as clear as they ever were for Orr, including his introduction to another Bruins legend, Johnny Bucyk.
"I can remember going in, getting my key, going to my room, and there's a guy laying on the bed in his underwear with a little bit of a belly, smoking a cigar, and I looked and I said, 'Oh my God. Hello, Mr. Bucyk.' He says, 'You call me Chief or John,'" Orr said. "John was my first roommate."
Then, in his first NHL game, Orr had his first encounter with another legend.
"I remember Gordie Howe hitting me and knocking me down," Orr said. "When I was a very young boy, Gordie Howe came to Parry Sound, (Ontario), to do an appearance for a store that he worked for. I was fortunate enough to go fishing with him.
"He says, 'So, son, you want to play in the NHL?' 'Oh, I would love to play in the NHL,' I said. "He says, 'If you ever get there, watch for my elbows.' He showed me his elbows the first night."
It's been a long time since that first night and a long time since Schmidt's first night, but what has never gotten old is the respect the two players have for each other.
"I've got news for you fellas," Schmidt said. "This guy here is the greatest of all."