Monday, 29 April 2013

Colton Orr: Taking the Next Step

The name Colton Orr doesn’t ring out as one of the franchise players for the playoff bound Toronto Maple Leafs.  That tag falls to names like top scorers Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel.  That said, with the Leafs breaking out of a nine year playoff drought, Colton Orr is a large part of the shift in team identity that put the Blue and White back into the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup. 

With the 2012-13 NHL Regular Season in the books, Toronto holds the most penalty minutes in the NHL.  That mark is powered by a runaway lead in the major penalty category, 46 through 48 games.  The next closets teams are Philadelphia and Columbus, both standing at 35 majors through 48 contests.  Breaking it down even further, three players consistently contribute to that major mark in Frazer McLaren, Mark Fraser and… Colton Orr.

“We wanted to be hard to play against,” said Orr, the NHL’s penalty minutes leader.  “We were doing the little things a lot more and you could tell in our game when teams come to play us it’s going to be a long night.  We really make sure that we come to work.”

A team’s work ethic and toughness goes far beyond willingness to drop the gloves in the heat of the battle, but the Leafs’ combativeness is certainly part of that lunch-bucket mantra.  Orr is no stranger to playing in an environment that demands a strong work ethic.  His journey to the NHL started its Major Junior roots with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos before moving to the Kamloops Blazers and finally landing in the Queen City with the Regina Pats for the 2002-03 season.
Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail
“It was my overage year when I came (to Regina) and had a great experience there,” remembered the Winnipeg, MB product.  “Bobby Lowe was my coach and he gave me a really good opportunity to play and work my game.  It was a good experience and really helped me get ready for the next step.”

Through his WHL career, Orr suited up for 164 regular season games and the hard-nosed style he plays in the NHL was very evident in his junior days.  He amassed 570 penalty minutes in his WHL career (170 in his season with the Pats) and the Boston Bruins took notice, signing Orr as a free agent in 2001.  Orr gives plenty of credit to the Western Hockey League in aiding his development towards reaching the professional ranks.

“You get good coaches in (the WHL), everything is first class and they take care of you really well.  The travel is tough.  It’s a lot of travel, but it helps you prepare.  My first few years when I was in the AHL we were on the bus all the time so you’re just used to that.  It’s something that helps along the way.”

Now in the late stages of his tenth professional season, Orr sees plenty of young players who have taken similar opportunities and made the most of it.  Every season, players from the WHL, OHL and QMJHL make their NHL debuts and display why the Canadian Hockey League is one of the top developmental leagues in the world.

“You see kids are in a lot better shape and more knowledgeable in terms of nutrition and training, more off- ice stuff has come a long way in the last few years.  Even since I was in junior hockey and that’s a big part of kids coming up and playing in the league.”

This week, Colton Orr and the Maple Leafs take to the ice in what is likely to be a madhouse at the Air Canada Centre when the Leafs play their first home playoff game in nine years.  When Orr reminisces about his time in Regina, again it’s the fans who stand out.

“Regina is so great, a good junior town.  We always had great support from the community, and I remember it being a fun place to play.  I really enjoyed my time there.”

Orr’s path from the WHL to the NHL exemplifies the hard work and tenacity the Maple Leafs incorporated into their game this season en route to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Whether it’s a future star scorer or a player who will help grind out wins, that attitude leads players to flourish in the Western Hockey League and helps them take the next step.

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