The Leafs’ Punisher

Orr has done a lot of hurtin’, but some of that pain has been felt by his team

If he could it again, and Colton Orr knows full well he cannot, he would keep his fingers to himself.

All three of them.

“That’s not me,” he said on the phone Monday, talking of his post-fight celebration after his fourth scrap with Matt Carkner.

“I don’t really do that kind of stuff. I’ve never been one of those guys who likes to celebrate. I just like to do my job.

“If I had that situation again, it would be different.”

That was Saturday night in Ottawa.

The next night in Philadelphia may have been worse.

“I took bad penalties,” Orr said.

“You can’t do that. A couple of bad penalties really cost the team. You can’t put your team in that kind of trouble.”

It is forever a fine line for the Colton Orrs of the hockey world. They can fight but can’t celebrate. They can play tough but can’t take stupid penalties. They have to be aggressive, just not too aggressive. They have to be intimidating within the guidelines of intimidation. They put their own physical well being ahead of their teams but must adhere to an unwritten code with a forever sliding scale as to what is acceptable and what is not.

The job description, for the most part, becomes your own.

No one had to tell Orr as a kid that his ticket to the big time — his one chance to make it — was because of his size and strength. He knew from the beginning.

“I started hockey pretty late,” Orr said. “I didn’t skate until I was 11. I always had to work hard just to catch up, just to stay where I am. I was always one of the bigger kids. I was always physical playing youth hockey. It just went from there, I guess, developed from there.”

He wasn’t like Tie Domi, who was a 20-goal scorer in junior, a 15-goal scorer in his best NHL season. He wasn’t like Nick Kypreos, who scored 49 goals in his last junior season, and once had 17 in Hartford. He didn’t have to change when he turned pro. Orr scored 19 goals in parts of five junior seasons: In five NHL seasons, he has six.

“I play the same way now I played in junior,” Orr said.

“I fought a lot. I checked a lot. I’ve been playing this role for a long time.”

Normally, the fighter-tough guy role in Toronto belongs to a fan favourite. At the height of his popularity, Domi was more beloved than Mats Sundin. And at different times along the way, the scrappy Leafs, Darcy Tucker, Wendel Clark, Brad Smith even, were among the most celebrated if not admired athletes in the city. But to date, Orr is a lot like the hockey team he plays on: Impossible to embrace.

He’s neither villain nor babyface. He’s just there, fighting, if you want to call it, for some kind of acceptance in his first of what should be four Toronto seasons.

Every time he gets close to being one of those figures to admire, along comes his three fingers of mock celebration on Saturday night or his reckless running around one evening later. And then his fights aren’t just to win on the ice, but to find his place within this market.

He is a different kind of fighter than we’ve seen before. Stronger. Larger. More menacing. His punches are thrown with what the late trainer Cus D’Amato used to call bad intentions. He hits somebody with his fist and at home watching on television I wince along with the beaten up opponent. There is that edge to him. There is that danger.

And in his case, there is that name, Orr. As in Bobby Orr, who is of no relation, but whose agency represents Colton.

The similarities end there.

“I’m just a hard working, physical checking forward who wants to help his teammates,” said Colton Orr.

“That’s how I’d like to be known. Not for the other stuff.”