On the first Sunday of the final season of the Original Six era, the moribund Boston Bruins and their fans got a glimpse of the glorious future.
The recent past in Boston hadn't been much to celebrate. As the 1966-67 season began, the once-proud Bruins hadn't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1959, had finished last in five of the previous six seasons and hadn't won a championship since 1941.
But on Oct. 23, 1966, glimmers of light began to shine through the darkness.
Four nights earlier, a crew-cut 18-year-old defenseman named Bobby Orr took the ice at Boston Garden and had an assist to help the Bruins open the season with a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Bruins spotted Orr as a 12-year-old and acquired his playing rights two years later. Orr spent three seasons making life miserable for opposing goaltenders in the Ontario Hockey League before he came to Boston for training camp in the fall of 1966. He wore several numbers during camp and in preseason games, but was delighted to see a sweater bearing No. 4 in his locker on opening night.
"It was a little different then,'' Orr told the Boston Globe last week. "Players didn't request their numbers. You didn't say, 'I want 67 or 66.' You took what they gave you."
The excitement of Orr's debut quickly wore off when the Bruins opened a home-and-home weekend series with a 3-1 loss to the defending champion Montreal Canadiens. Orr was held without a point.
The rematch was held the next night back at Boston Garden, where 13,909 fans saw history made.
The Canadiens led 2-1 entering the third period when Orr took a 50-foot slap shot from the point that sailed past goaltender Gump Worsley at 4:13, tying the game 2-2 and establishing a relationship with Boston fans that never wavered.
Video: NJD@BOS: Orr and Schmidt drop the opening puck
"As a rule, I never talk about the goals I scored, but I will never forget that one," he wrote in "Orr: My Story."
"The fans at the Garden were on their feet, not because the goal was a work of art - it was their way of welcoming me to Boston. Those fans went out of their way to make me feel at home. I always found the cheers deeply humbling. When you hear that, you want to give back, so that goal was the start of a very special relationship."
The Bruins finished last again, going 17-43-10. The only thing their fans had to cheer about was the play of their rookie defenseman. Orr finished the season with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 61 games, impressive offensive numbers for any defenseman in that era, especially a rookie.
Not only was Orr as good as the Gallery Gods at Boston Garden had been told, he was better.
"Our fans had heard about this kid for a few years," Bruins coach and longtime executive Harry Sinden said. "There was a lot of pressure on him, but he met all the expectations. He was a star from the moment they played the national anthem in the opening game of the season."
Orr picked up his first piece of NHL hardware the following spring when he won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie. He was voted a Second-Team All-Star despite playing for a last-place team.
New York Rangers defenseman Harry Howell, winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, had no illusions that he'd be taking home the trophy again.
"I might as well enjoy it now," he said of the Norris, won by Orr in each of the next eight seasons, "because I expect it's going to belong to Bobby Orr from now on."