PHWA mourns the passing of Toronto Star titan Frank Orr

A legend to most, a mentor to all young journalists, the Professional Hockey Writers Association mourns the passing of legendary member William “Frank” Orr on Feb. 13, 2021.

Orr, a titan at the Toronto Star for more than four decades, was the 1989 recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award as a media honouree in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was 84.

Orr was the PHWA’s No. 3 card holder at the time of his passing, the organization’s second-longest living lifetime member. In 2003, he received a lifetime achievement award from Sports Media Canada and was inducted into the Etobicoke (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Tributes poured in from around the hockey world on Saturday as news of Orr’s passing spread.

Past PHWA president Mark Spector recalled his time as a young Oilers beat writer, once phoning Orr for information the day before a game.

“He was somebody. I was nobody,” Spector tweeted. “Graciously, he emptied his notebook​. He taught us all about decency and enjoying the job. And restaurants.”

Orr was famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of the finest restaurants in any city on any continent. He was equally remembered for his brilliantly funny one-liners.

“I didn’t know we broke any windows,” was often Orr’s response when big bill arrived at the table. Then he’d wrestle the cheque away from his dining companions.

A few other Orr favourites: “I’m not saying the Leafs are bad, but is f***-up hyphenated?” Or: “I’ve bet on horses smaller than that [Eric] Lindros kid.”

During a particularly conservative Ducks-Red Wings game, Elliott Teaford recalled Orr quipping: “It’s the dump without the chase.”

Orr’s legend spanned the ocean. Longtime PHWA member Lance Hornby shared a story of over-served Finnish writers spotting Orr at a bar during the 1989 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Oooor! Ooooor! They kept yelling at our table, then came over to pepper him with a million questions,” Hornby tweeted. “It was like traveling with a rock star.”

Orr’s career began as a radio announcer in Chatham and Sault Ste Marie, Ont. He then served as sports editor with the Guelph Mercury and Cornwall Standard-Freeholder before joining the Toronto Star in 1961. At the Star, Orr covered everything from college football to horse racing, while his major beat was hockey – from junior to the National Hockey League and world championships.

Orr wrote more than 30 sports books and contributed to more than 60 additional titles. He also covered the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, as well as auto racing and figure skating – including 12 World and Olympic championships.

“As an American hockey writer in the 1970s, before social media, when I walked into a Canadian rink and saw a Frank Orr, a Red Fisher, I felt real awe: ‘Whoa. These guys write hockey IN CANADA!’,” tweeted fellow Elmer Ferguson winner Frank Brown. “They were the iconic print voices of hockey where it is the official winter sport.”

Scores of kids across Canada read the Star wanting to emulate Orr. Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons tweeted: “Growing up, everyone on my street wanted to be Bobby Orr. I wanted to be Frank Orr.”

Fellow Elmer Ferguson Award winner and TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie tweeted: “During the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs, 11-year-old me kept a scrapbook of all the articles written in The Star and The Telegram about the Leafs run to the Cup. I was as enamoured with the bylines of the reporters as the players they wrote about.”

When McKenzie, Simmons and others finally made it to the press box and rubbed elbows with Orr, they were treated like equals.

Former PHWA member Mike Zeisberger tweeted: “Sometimes your heroes disappoint. Not Frank.”

That’s why beyond his enormous accomplishments as a journalist, he was immediately remembered for his generosity and compassion toward young aspiring writers.

“The Man. Generous to young writers, great dinner companion, king of one-liners, with a soft spot for the everyday producers of prose on the hockey beat,” the Hall of Famer Cam Cole wrote. “Frank had a weak heart but a very big one. All his old media buddies can quote a few of his one-liners.”

Simmons tweeted that “one of the most important influences of my life has passed. … Thanks for all the laughs, the stories, the advice, the restaurant touts, the recipes, the emails.”

Cole also remembered being sick with food poisoning in Detroit, delirious while covering an Edmonton Oilers playoff game. Orr would wake his media colleague long enough to describe goals – “Kurri, one-timer, great setup by Gretz” – and Cole would write them down before passing out again.

“Every great man is unique, and there is no question that Frank Orr was one of a kind,” PHWA president Frank Seravalli said. “Reading all of the tributes come in from every corner of the hockey universe not only cemented his legend as a giant in hockey journalism, but showed that he meant so much to so many.”

Orr was preceded in death by Shirley, his wife of 57 years. The Professional Hockey Writers Association sends its sincere condolences to the Orr family.

PHWA’s 2020 Conn Smythe Ballots: Hedman’s razor thin win

EDMONTON — Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was selected as the 54th winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup playoff MVP by a panel of Professional Hockey Writers Association members.

Hedman’s victory will go down as one of the closest Conn Smythe votes ever by the PHWA. The hulking Swede edged teammate Brayden Point by a slim four-point margin, receiving nine first-place votes (9-8-1) to Point’s eight (8-8-2).

Teammates Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy also received votes.

Hedman became the third native of Sweden to win the Conn Smythe, joining countrymen Nick Lidstrom (2002) and Henrik Zetterberg (2008). He scored 10 goals during the Lightning’s 25-game run, third only to Brian Leetch (11) and Paul Coffey (12) for most goals by a defenseman in a single playoff. All 10 of his goals were scored during the traditional four playoff rounds, with none coming in the bonus round-robin games.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Hedman logged more than 500 minutes of ice time in the playoffs and was only on the ice for 10 goals against, matching his own singular offensive production. Point netted a playoff-best 14 goals, including the Stanley Cup clincher in Game 6.

In the interest of full transparency, the PHWA has once again revealed each individual ballot for all 18 Conn Smythe voters.

Victor Hedman 70 points (9-8-1)
Brayden Point 66 points (8-8-2)
Nikita Kucherov 25 points (1-2-14)
Andrei Vasilevskiy 1 point (0-0-1)

Voting was scored in a 5-3-1 points format and ballots were due with 10 minutes remaining in Game 6.

Hurricanes, Wild win 2020 Dillman Awards

The Professional Hockey Writers Association is pleased to announce that the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild are the 2020 winners of the Dick Dillman Award, presented annually to honor the work of outstanding NHL public relations staffs in each conference.

After two consecutive seasons as runners-up, the Hurricanes broke through with their first-ever win, while Minnesota captured the Dillman for the second time in four seasons.

Traditionally, the award is based on the work of public relations teams during the regular season. This year, the Dillman selection committee also took the playoffs into consideration and noted how the staffs in Carolina and Minnesota dealt with unprecedented situations and handled them with exceptional professionalism.

“This season presented us all with unique challenges, with access altered and limited to ways we have never seen before,” said PHWA president Frank Seravalli. “While the doors to rinks closed, the Wild and Hurricanes were as available as ever. Before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, they went above and beyond their peers to provide access and information with a dedication and excellence that showed through when other teams went quiet.”

Minnesota’s communications department is headed by Aaron Sickman, director of media relations; and includes Megan Kogut, media relations specialist; and Emily Yang, publicist.

“We are humbly honored to be named a recipient of the Dick Dillman Award by the PHWA,” Sickman said. “This has certainly been a challenging season for everyone. We value the relationship our players and team management have with the media and enjoy helping them cover the Minnesota Wild and the great sport of hockey on a daily basis.”

Wild PR staff (L-R): Aaron Sickman, Megan Kogut, Emily Yang.

In Carolina, the public relations staff continues to be led by Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications and team services; and includes Pace Sagester, manager of communications and team services; and Mike Brown, communications and hockey operations assistant.

“We are humbled and honored to accept this award on behalf of the Carolina Hurricanes organization,” Sundheim said. “With the challenges the world is currently facing, the PHWA is an even more vital organization for telling the stories of how players, coaches and teams are navigating these unique circumstances, and we sincerely appreciate the efforts of its membership in reaching out to do so. We are also thankful to work for an owner, general manager and head coach who recognize the importance of providing quality access to independent writers.”  

Hurricanes PR staff (L-R): Mike Brown, Mike Sundheim, Pace Sagester.

The runners-up in the Eastern Conference were the Philadelphia Flyers, three-time Dillman winners, most recently in 2018. The Flyers’ staff is led by Zack Hill, the team’s senior director of communications. In the Western Conference, the runners-up were another previous Dillman winner, the Dallas Stars. The Stars’ PR staff continues to be headed by Tom Holy, vice president of communications and broadcasting.

The Dillman Award is presented in honor of the late, great Minnesota North Stars public relations guru Dick Dillman. The Dillman committee is chaired by Dillman’s daughter, Lisa Dillman, and features a voting panel of senior PHWA members.

Previous Dillman Award winners

2018-19: Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames
2017-18: Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars
2016-17: Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild
2015-16: Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames
2014-15: Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars
2013-14: Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks
2012-13: Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks
2011-12: Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators
2010-11: Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks
2009-10: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
2008-09: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
2007-08: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
2006-07: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks