Monday, September 29, 2003

Celebrity game may be Orr's last

Kerry dons skates, scores an assist Leary hasn't yet decided on venue for next year

Mark Melady

BOSTON- Bobby Orr laced 'em up for what he said was likely the last time in yesterday's Celebrity Hat Trick that produced its first on-ice assist by a presidential candidate, an emotionally charged national anthem by the daughter of a Worcester firefighter serving in Iraq and doubt that the event will be back in Worcester next year.

Billed as "Hockey's Greatest Skate for America's Bravest," the game raised about $500,000 for several fire departments, including in Worcester, Boston and New York City.

The mix of mostly film and television star hockey buffs as well as hockey legends drew about 15,000 to the FleetCenter, the first time in its four-year history the game has been played outside Worcester.

Chief organizer, comedian/actor and Worcester native Denis Leary said the site of next year's event has not been decided.

Asked whether he intended to return to Boston next year, Mr. Leary said a decision won't be made until he consults with Mr. Orr, whose affiliation with the event was credited with boosting ticket sales.

"We haven't talked about where we'll play yet," Mr. Leary said of next year's venue. "I'll sit down with Bobby Orr in the next few days and we'll see what happens."

Mr. Leary began the Leary Firefighters Foundation in 2000 in response to the 1999 Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire that killed six Worcester firefighters, including Mr. Leary's cousin, Jeremiah Lucey.

Since then the foundation has distributed more than $1 million to the Worcester Fire Department for a new training facility and burn tower, used by firefighters from Central Massachusetts.

The foundation has also contributed $1.8 million to families of the 343 firefighters who died in the 9-11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks and funds for a New York Fire Department mobile command post.

While Aerosmith was the rumored national anthem performer, the job fell to Worcester's Jillian Russell, who left a New York City recording studio at 3 a.m. Sunday to go to Boston to sing a powerful rendition in front of the largest audience of her career.

"I sang it for my father," she said after leaving the ice to a long ovation. Passing Boston firefighters stopped to congratulate her, two saying she had brought them to tears.

Her father, Worcester Fire Lt. Paul Russell, shipped out for Iraq in April with a National Guard maintenance unit and expected to be home in mid-October; the tour has been extended to a full year.

However, Lt. Russell got lucky in a leave lottery and will come home for two weeks of rest and recreation for the Christmas season.

Actor Tim Robbins; Michael J. Fox, whose acting career has been interrupted by Parkinson's disease; Lenny Clarke, of ABC's sitcom "It's All Relative;" and filmmaker Bobby Farrelly were among the celebrities skating yesterday.

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., skated several shifts without a helmet and after whiffing on a couple of breakaways, helped feed Ken Hodge on a goal.

After the game Mr. Kerry, one of 10 Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination, reaffirmed his support for federal funding of firefighter training and equipment. "If we can open firehouses in Baghdad, we can keep them open in America."

Current Bruins center Joe Thornton, called by former Bruins coach Don Cherry the world's greatest hockey player, joined with former players Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, goalie Gerry Cheevers, John "Chief" Bucyk, Ken Hodge, Pat LaFontaine and Guy LaFluer.

Mr. Orr and Mr. Cherry coached the MasterCard sponsored team. Gordie Howe, Stan Mikita and Mr. Clarke coached the EMC sponsored team that included Mr. Leary, who scored on a penalty shot on his second try after having his first disrupted with a flurry of sticks thrown at his skates from the opposition's bench.

The hockey-loving celebrities expressed awe at playing with the game's legends.

"I was on the ice today with Bobby Orr," said Mr. Robbins, who scored two goals, coming within one of an actual celebrity hat trick. "Think about that."

The actor acknowledged that, as a New York Rangers fan, he had hated the Bruins but had to accept greatness in the enemy when he witnessed it, which he did as a youngster in Madison Square Garden.

"I saw Bobby Orr kill a penalty skating all by himself without making a pass," Mr. Robbins said.

It may well be the last time anyone sees Mr. Orr on skates. The man considered the greatest defenseman of all time, who led the Bruins to two Stanley Cup championships in the early 1970s, said he had not put on skates since the party four years ago that closed the Boston Garden, and not for 20 years before that.

"I had a wonderful time today for a great cause," Mr. Orr said, "but I don't know if I'll ever skate again."