Coming full circle with two Canadian icons

It's not often one gets the opportunity to meet and speak to two Canadian icons.

When defenceman Bobby Orr was changing the way hockey was played, I had yet to be born. However, when I did finally enter the world and grew a strong passion for the game, I soon learned about him.

People who came before me would say, “Orr is the best defenceman I've ever seen. No one will ever do what he did.”

After hearing that, I would think to myself, “I have got to find out who this guy is and what the hype is all about.”

So, I'd go on my computer and search for documentaries. I love them.

After watching a number of videos, I was amazed. He really did change the way defencemen played not only the position, but the game itself. He had six seasons in which he had more than 100 points.

Before I knew of Orr, I thought only forwards could put up those kinds of numbers.

Then I listened to his interviews. I could tell right away, that I wanted to shape myself into the kind of person that he is.

Oddly enough, he has had an influence on me just by my listening to him talk. He is such a humble man.

Nobody has a bad word to say about him, including the late Pat Quinn, who had a lot to do with shaping the person that I am.

I had never met or watched Orr play, but I truly admired him. I had a lot of respect for him.

Same for one of his coaches, but for different reasons. Don Cherry was the head coach of the Boston Bruins from 1974-75 to 1978-79.

Orr, of course, spent 10 seasons with the Bruins, where he will always be remembered. Cherry coached Orr in 1974-75 and 1975-76.

When Cherry's coaching career came to a close, though, he became a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada. He had his own segment called Coaches Corner.

Cherry always gave controversial opinions. He is still doing so to this day.

When I was around 12 years of age, I used to go on the internet and find addresses for fan mail. There was one particular piece of mail that I sent, and it was to Cherry.

I wrote in pen, in my horrible writing, telling him that I always watch Coaches Corner. After I finished writing the letter, I spilled some water on it.

Some of the note ripped, but only in parts that I didn't write on. It was all wet, but I decided to send it anyway.

I had rarely gotten a response any time I did write fan mail. But to my surprise, months after I had sent the letter, I got something back from Cherry.

It wasn't just one item . . . there were a number of things and all with personalized autographs, too.

He sent a shirt, a 'Rock'em Sock'em Hockey' DVD, and a picture of him and his dog.

Boy, I thought that was just awesome.

Cherry won me over after doing that. I was even more hooked to Coaches Corner than ever before.

It was something he didn't need to do. I will never forget it.

Because of these experiences, I've always wanted to meet and interview Cherry and Orr.

But the thing was, I never knew when or if I would get the chance.

During the 2014-15 season, the Vancouver Giants were named the host of the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. It's an opportunity for NHL scouts to watch the top talent for the NHL upcoming draft. 

Cherry and Orr are the head coaches for the respective teams that are named after them.

It was going to be awesome to see the Giants play host to a major event again. After a long wait, it all happened on Thursday.

The building was packed with scouts and other NHL personnel, as I expected. The game was great, as Team Orr defeated Team Cherry, 3-2.

But it wasn't until after the game when my hopes became reality.

 Liong interviewing Don Cherry

Liong interviewing Don Cherry

When Cherry became available, Cherry he walked over to me for an interview.

I held my digital recorder tightly and pressed the 'record' button.

“Mr. Cherry,” I said, “what does being a part of this game mean to you?”

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “But it would have meant a lot more if we would have won. I'm getting tired of giving Bobby Orr the 100 bucks!”

Team Cherry now has lost the game for six straight years.

I tried my best not to laugh and continued on with my questions. That was the highlight of the whole interview.

Orr was next.

When Paul Krotz, the CHL's communications manager, introduced me to Orr, Orr embraced me and had a huge grin on his face. I did too, but I couldn't tell whether it was a headlock or a hug.

After the reaction I got from Cherry about the bet, I had to ask Orr about it.

“I talked to Mr. Cherry earlier,” I said.

Orr started laughing. I think he knew where I was going.

“He talked about always losing to you.”

 Speaking to Orr at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Photo by Chris Relke)

Speaking to Orr at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Photo by Chris Relke)

Orr laughed even harder.

“Is there a way you figure out how to beat him?”

“No,” Orr said. “We have nothing to do with selecting the teams, I want that on record right way. The NHL Central Scouting puts the teams together. We stress that, you know, just go out and have fun. You've come here because you play a certain way. Just play that way and have fun. Don't be pressuring yourself. Don't become an individual. Be a good team player and we'll be successful. That's all we do."

Of course, he couldn’t end without taking a friendly jab at Cherry.

“They might over-coach over there,” Orr said. :Grapes and his team might over-coach.”

He broke into laughter again.

The whole thing was unbelievable.

I've interviewed a lot of people throughout my career, but Thursday was one of the highlights. When I was talking to Orr, I couldn't help but think of how Quinn treated me. 

I had only met Orr for five minutes, but I could tell the two are similar . . . class acts, humble, always laughing and smiling.

When I returned home, I looked at the photos that were taken of me with Cherry and Orr.

I noticed that in a picture with Orr, it's clear that I'm wearing a pin with Quinn's face on it, and I get a little emotional.

Why?

Because I remembered this: Without Quinn, I would have never been able to stand and talk to one of the best defencemen of all-time and a man who is so similar to him. 

 Liong and Orr (Photo by Chris Relke)

Liong and Orr (Photo by Chris Relke)

None of what happened on Thursday would have occurred without Quinn.

Not the interview with Cherry. Nothing.

I miss you, Big Irishman.