Hall of Famer Cam Neely
, AHL President Dave Andrews and a pair of Boston coaching legends -- Boston University's Jack Parker and Boston College's Jerry York -- were honored Wednesday night with the Lester Patrick
Award for "outstanding service to hockey in the United States."
While all four were humble when asked about receiving the award and what they had done to be recognized, they were also amazed at the growth of hockey in the United States and proud to have played a role in it.
"You have your number retired by the Bruins, an Original Six club and obviously being in the Hall of Fame is special, but being awarded this award is very special as well," Neely said.
As team president, Neely is very active in the New England hockey community and has helped bring back the buzz around the team as they have become contenders again since he joined the front office. But the reach he had through his playing career and the influence he most likely had on young, aspiring hockey players in the late 1980s and '90s is still evident.
"It's flattering, there's no question," Neely said of the fact that he can still see fans wearing his No. 8 jersey at TD Garden and around the city. "I've been very fortunate enough to have this type of relationship with the fans and furthermore in this community. I appreciate the fact that they liked the game and what I stood for. I retired in 1996 and to see that still happening is flattering."
Andrews was also extremely honored to be among such a prestigious group of Patrick Award recipients.
"I'm deeply honored to receive this and honestly almost embarrassed to be in the same group with the history of work that these guys have and then you look at the list of former recipients and it's a who's who of hockey, so you don't imagine yourself being recognized that way," Andrews said. "It's a recognition of what we've done to help grow the game of hockey in the United States and both from the participation perspective by working with youth hockey all over the U.S. and also by growing the fan base for the game as well."
Andrews also credited USA Hockey for the job the organization has done to help put American hockey back on the map.
"USA hockey is doing a wonderful job," Andrews said. "Not only at the high performance center, the Olympic Games and the World Junior Championships, where they've obviously done an excellent job but in all levels of Men's and Women's hockey at all levels. That's a credit to Art Berglund and Ron DeGregorio who have done amazing things to help grow this game in the states."
When Jack Parker and Jerry York started coaching college hockey in the early 1970s, the idea of Americans making it to the NHL was almost unimaginable. The longtime friends and rivals are two of the biggest reasons for the huge growth in American-born players.
"When we were growing up, it was the Original Six and it was something players growing up, would try to mimic," York said of the American hockey culture of his youth. "Here's what Bronco Horvath
did and here's what that player did. But none of us ever thought of playing in the NHL. It was strictly a Canadian thing …, with major junior and such. So we were all content to just cheer for the Bruins and swayed by the success of the Bruins at that time. But it's a viable option now for Americans, Swedes, Russians, Czechs and it's is kind of gratifying to think now -- like when Jack [Parker] and I would play, they had the National team or the Springfield Pics in the old Eastern Junior League -- but now they have so many options that can lead to kids making a living of it and fulfill their dreams. I couldn't envision it back then, but it's a regular thing now and God bless them all because there's great opportunity for these young guys."
York is still very much involved with his job and probably won't realize that he helped pave the way for some college hockey players turned pro but he's hoping he had some influence and maybe inspired a future coach as well.
"We're always thinking about the next shift or the next game, so to be quite honest, we never have the time," York admitted. "But some nights you reflect back on what path you took, and I'm happy I took the path of coaching in college. Hopefully some day some young kids at B.C. High or Catholic Memorial will look at the jobs Jack and I have done and say, 'Hey that's a great way to earn a living' and become coaches."
Parker has seen many of his former players go to the Olympics and on to the NHL -- something he never expected when he took over at his alma mater in 1973.
"College hockey wasn't really a breeding ground for the NHL," recalled Parker who recently began his 38th consecutive season behind the Terriers' bench. "As we say in Boston, it's 'bizarre' to think I helped changed that. I think I've had a nice career at Boston University and we've been involved with a lot of kids that went to the pros and helped change that and made hockey bigger in this country and certainly around the state.
"It's flattering, there's no question. I've been very fortunate enough to have this type of relationship with the fans and furthermore in this community. I appreciate the fact that they liked the game and what I stood for. I retired in 1996 and to see that still happening is flattering." -- Cam Neely
"Like I say, the Tony Amontes leave here and go to Chicago and then a lot of kids in Chicago want to play hockey because of the Tony Amontes, and [Shawn] McEachern, my son-in-law Scotty Lachance and Keith Tkachuk
and all those guys. I've had a lot of guys that played on Olympic teams and that's really something that has underlined my contribution is that we've helped USA Hockey with a lot of Olympians. But in general, I'm getting credit for something my players all did for me when they were playing here and then what they did afterwards to make it look like I developed some of them."
Parker said it's all part of the job -- a job that he has thoroughly enjoyed and that has led to some magical moments.
"I get invited to a lot of banquets and I try to avoid them, but some you just can't. A few years ago I went to a banquet and I came home and my wife asked 'how was the banquet?' I said 'the usual stuff … chicken and too many awards.' But it was great coming out," he said. "I walked out the door and Milt Schmidt
came out to me and said 'Hey Jack, you had a great year. I really admire the way you coach your team.' And I said 'Imagine that!' My wife didn't know who Milt Schmidt
was, but I'm thinking little Jackie Parker from Somerville, Mass., and I knew who Milt Schmidt
was but I couldn't believe Milt Schmidt
knew who I was. There's been a lot of great moments like that."