|Cam Neely was recently presented with the "Hockey Legacy Award" at the Boston Sports Museum honoring the city's sports legends.|
On June 19, the city hosted a parade to honor the Boston Celtics' first NBA championship since 1986. Six nights later, the Boston Sports Museum honored seven of the city's sports legends, led by former Bruin Cam Neely and Celtic legend John Havlicek.
"The Tradition" is an annual event sponsored by the Museum at the TD Banknorth Garden, the home of the Bruins and Celtics. Neely, now a Bruins' vice president was presented with the "Hockey Legacy Award."
Neely was equally proficient at beating opponents with his strength and his skill. One of the most revered players in Bruins history appeared in 525 regular-season games with Boston, totaling 344 goals, 246 assists and 921 penalty minutes in 10 seasons from 1986-'96. Neely is the club's all-time leading playoff goal scorer with 55.
He became the 50th Bruin to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005; his No. 8 is among 10 numbers hanging in the rafters of the new Garden.
Before the start of last season, he was named a team vice president. His first season as VP ended with disappointment after a scintillating seven-game playoff war with archrival Montreal, and the Bruins' first playoff appearance since 2004.
"Aside from winning that first round, I don't think it could have gone better for the organization and the fans," Neely said. "Playing Montreal is something Boston has become accustomed to. They were seven really good hockey games that could have gone either way. Good learning experiences for a lot of new guys who got a taste of winning and losing in the playoffs."
One of those "new guys" was rookie Milan Lucic, a Vancouver native who was selected to present Neely's award.
"I only knew about him from my parents before I came here," said the 20-year-old, who at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds looks a lot like his mentor. "My dad was a Canucks' fan when Cam broke in with Vancouver. He said, 'The guy that stood out the most was Cam. He'd go out and hit, then score a goal, then get in a fight — a big impact player with such a physical presence.'"
So is Lucic, who went 8-19-27 in his rookie season, which was capped off with the Boston fans voting him the 7th Player Award.
"Lucic has tremendous character," Neely said. "I'm really impressed with that and his work ethic. His asset is his physical play. We look forward to seeing him develop."
Lucic is flattered by comparisons to a Hall of Famer.
"I can't get overwhelmed by the comparison to him," he said. "Just keep it going by staying level-headed and taking it day by day. Just keep building off the successes. I'm just happy to be in the same organization as Cam."
Boston Globe writer Fluto Shinzawa ties a Bruins' return to prominence to the "Neelying" of the Black and Gold.
"I think I have a really good understanding of the type of hockey our fans love to watch," Neely said about the label. "They want them to go out and work hard and play tough. I don't mean you have to drop the gloves; I mean taking a hit to make a play. Battle along the wall, fight for the puck. That's as tough as dropping the gloves. Our fans go to work hard, and they expect their athletes to work hard.
"As a player, I really never felt pressure. I always felt if I worked my hardest, generally good things would happen. But it is a team sport and a lot of things have to happen for a team to win. We have to do it on and off the ice and agree on where we're going. Get the players available you believe can help get you there.
Billed as "tough, talented, and the ultimate power forward" by the Sports Museum, Neely knows the pressure is on for the Bruins to have their own parade — one that would be the first since the franchise's last Stanley Cup in 1972.
"I can't stress enough — it's not as easy as just getting two players like (the Celtics did in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett). Basketball is a little different than hockey. But we've seen it recently here with the Patriots and Red Sox, and now the Celtics," he said. "The fans have been waiting a long, long time for the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup. We know the job we have to do, and we'll stay on the plan in place."
What was Neely's reaction to another Boston tribute?
"When you're young, you think about turning pro and then it becomes a reality," he said. "Then it's like, 'How do I sustain a long and successful career?' I came here at 21 and spent more than half my life here now. I'm ingrained in this community. Now my family is. I've been treated extremely well since I came to Boston. I love being here, and I love our fans. The timing was good to get back in the organization and try to turn things around."
In the background of the gathering was one of the key players in 1972.
"He's meant a lot to Boston and to his teammates," the legendary Johnny Bucyk said of Neely. "What he now does off the ice is really important. He'll instill that physical play in our team. I go back to the 60s, when we didn't make the Playoffs. Then a few trades caused the wheel to turn and we won a couple of Stanley Cups. I see that now with the team that we have. Making the Playoffs was a good start. We can only look forward."
Lucic said he was surprised to be chosen to make the presentation to Neely.
"I didn't know I made this much of an impact on Boston," he said.
Neither did Neely, who also established the Neely Foundation, opened the Neely House, and launched the Neely Cancer Fund with his siblings to honor their parents, who both lost courageous battles with the disease. It provides housing and support for the families of patients undergoing cancer treatments and fund treatment and research efforts. Since its inception in 1995, the Foundation has raised over $16 million.
"He was a great player and is a great person," Lucic said.
Also honored were Red Sox great Dom DiMaggio, Patriots receiver Irving Fryar, Peter and Abigail Fuller of New England horse-racing fame, Darryl Williams, and the wry voice of Boston sports, Bob Lobel.