Photographers tasked with covering sporting events have managed to capture some incredibly iconic photos while chronicling those gathering for the masses.
Take, for example, the picture of Muhammad Ali towering over Sonny Liston following a first-round knockout, Michael Jordan leaping from the free-throw line at the NBA Dunk Contest, or Derek Redmond’s dad helping the sprinter cross the finish line after his son tore his hamstring at the Olympics.
However, you can’t talk about that particular topic without discussing what is easily the most legendary photograph in the history of hockey: the black-and-white snapshot of Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr flying through the air virtually parallel to the surface of the ice after scoring a Stanley Cup-clinching goal.
The image that memorialized Orr’s game-winning goal on May 10, 1970 is also memorialized by the statue that now stands outside the venue the Bruins call home today, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that photo can be found somewhere inside a sizeable chunk of man caves in New England and beyond.
The picture in question was snapped by Ray Lussier, the photographer who could’ve missed out on the chance to become a part of hockey history if not for the set of circumstances that allowed him to capture—and publish—the moment in the first place.
The surprising backstory behind that iconic photo of Bobby Orr’s game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Finals
Lussier was obviously not the only photojournalist in attendance at Boston Garden that night, but he ended up being the one who ended up in the right place before opening the shutter of his camera at the perfect time.
The photographer hadn’t even managed to secure a media credential before he’d arrived at the arena to cover Game 4 of the Stanely Cup Finals for the Boston Record-American (now the Boston Herald), but he was able to gain admission before setting up shop on the opposite side of the rink from where Orr would eventually score the game-winner.
The Bruins and the Blues were tied at three goals apiece at the end of regulation, and Lussier opted for a change of scenery after seeing a spot open up near the St. Louis goal courtesy of another photographer who’d purportedly used the intermission to grab a beer before overtime kicked off.
Lussier captured the photo in question at a time when the film had to be developed manually, and he initially didn’t think much of a negative that was seemingly destined for the floor of the cutting room before editor Sam Cohen asked about it after spotting the still and was told, “Oh, you don’t want that one. The play’s over and the puck’s out of the net.”
Much like Orr’s goal was the result of some impressive teamwork, Cohen gave Lussier an assist to ensure the photo would get the attention and credit it deserved, and the rest is a legendary piece of hockey history.