BOSTON - Phil Esposito suited up alongside some of the greatest hockey players of all time during his time in Boston.
Bobby Orr. Johnny Bucyk. Gerry Cheevers. All Hall of Famers and all critical members of the Bruins' Stanley Cup championship teams in 1970 and 1972.
But there is another member of those teams who Esposito believes does not receive enough credit. That player is Wayne Cashman.
"Without a doubt," Esposito said when asked if he considered Cashman to be a bit underrated. "People have no idea how good Wayne was playing his off-wing. When he played left wing with Kenny [Hodge] and I, we had this chemistry going that comes around once in a while. Truly, it's like [Brad] Marchand and [Patrice] Bergeron, they've got chemistry together.
"Wayne was the digger. He was the heart and soul of our line. Without a doubt."
Cashman got his due on Tuesday night when he was honored with the Hockey Legacy Award at The Sports Museum's 15th Annual The Tradition event at TD Garden. The former Bruins captain was recognized along with former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, former Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal, boxing champion Laila Ali, and members of One Fund Boston.
"It's nice to be here because of Wayne," said Esposito, who presented his former linemate during the ceremony. "It's well-deserved and it's a long time coming…Wayne gave his 17-year career here, never left when he had chances to, was a loyal soldier, [he] even coached."
Cashman played his entire career for the Bruins, from 1964-83, and was a member of two Stanley Cup teams. He was Boston's captain from 1977-83 and later became an assistant coach with the Bruins (2001-04; 2005-06).
"It's great to be back here and see some folks that I haven't seen in quite a while and be in the city I played my whole career in," said Cashman, who got a call from Bucyk letting him know he would be honored.
"I'm enjoying it. This is an event for a great cause and I'm very proud to be a part of it."
Cashman still ranks in the Bruins' top 10 in every major statistical category. The Kingston, Ontario, native is sixth in scoring (793 points), fourth in games played (1,027), seventh in goals (277), fifth in assists (516), and fifth in penalty minutes (1,041).
Through it all, though, one magical moment stands out.
"I think when Bobby scored that goal to win the Stanley Cup," Cashman said, referring to Orr's iconic goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final.
"That was a dream for any young guy growing up, especially in Canada at that time. For him to get the goal, to happen in Boston Garden, and the way it happened, is one of the memories I'll never forget."
Those 1970s Bruins teams, Cashman recalled, had something special - a camaraderie that was unmatched and still stands to this day.
"We were a team that came together back in the 70s," said Cashman. "We didn't have a lot of money, a lot of things. But we hung together - I might say we fought together - we played together.
"The team became very close - and to this day the team is still very close. I see Phil, I see Kenny [Hodge], talk to Gerry, talk to [Eddie] Johnston, talk to Eddie Westfall. We're still very close teammates."
Cashman makes sure to keep an eye on the Bruins and believes this version of the Black & Gold has plenty of promise.
"They've got a good hockey club, they've got a young team," said Cashman. They've got two of the best players in the league - anybody that watched the World Cup saw that [Marchand and Bergeron] were the best.
"They've got a great goalie [Tuukka Rask]. They had the best of the best at the World Cup and the coach [Claude Julien] was there, they've got one of the best in him, too."