BOSTON — As far as Harry Sinden is concerned, when it comes to making an impact on and off the ice in Boston, Cam Neely trails only the legendary Bobby Orr.
"He's impacted how kids think about the game and how they want to play the game," said Sinden, the longtime Bruins president and general manager who now serves as an advisor to owner Jeremy Jacobs. "From what kind of a person he is and what kind of a role model he was as an athlete, I think from all of those standpoints Cam Neely has, following Bobby, made the biggest impact and continued the impact of the sport in New England."
Sinden isn't alone in his high regard for Neely, who succeeded him as Bruins president this past summer, as Neely was one of four men honored with the 2010 Lester Patrick Award in recognition of outstanding service to hockey in the United States in a ceremony at TD Garden on Wednesday. In addition to Neely, Boston College coach Jerry York, Boston University counterpart Jack Parker and American Hockey League president David Andrews were honored this year.
Neely was a bit taken aback when Sinden's words were relayed to him, but the burly former right wing responded with his usual good humor.
"I paid him a lot of money for that," said Neely. "I appreciate Harry's comments for sure. I wouldn't put myself there, but obviously the style I played, people enjoyed how I played and that obviously has a lot to do with it. There's certainly a combination of the physical aspect, which people love here, had a lot to do with my offensive success, so I can see how Harry can make that comment, but I wouldn't go quite that high."
Neely's blend of talent and toughness definitely endeared him to the Boston fans, who appreciated the hard work and physical play Neely supplied as much as the 344 goals he scored in 525 games in a Bruins uniform.
"I truly enjoyed playing physical," said Neely. "I got as much of a change out of a big hit as I did a goal, and I think our fans probably felt the same way."
Neely also appreciates the ability to give back to the community and help raise awareness of the game of hockey in the U.S., particularly since he became an American citizen just a few years ago.
"When I got to a point when I'd lived in the States longer than I had lived in Canada, plus both of my children were born here, my wife is from here," explained Neely, 45, of his decision to become a dual citizen. "And then the other factor that got me thinking was how close the vote was a few years ago in that [2000 presidential] election."
Neely admitted he hasn't voted yet, and probably won't in next week's state elections, as he doesn't feel knowledgeable enough on the issues. Such is the price to be paid for the hours committed to improving the Bruins in his new position as team president.
In rising to that position, Neely at least had earned a vote of confidence from the last man to hold the title.
"To me, I've felt for the last couple of years if they were going to hire another president, I thought from the beginning that he was the guy," said Sinden. "For his hockey and his business acumen, his reputation in this city, his image and just the way he conducts himself."
Neely made a big impact on Sinden's career, as the trade Sinden swung with Vancouver on June 6, 1986 to acquire Neely and a first-round pick that was used to selected Glen Wesley for Barry Pederson is among the league's all-time swindles.
"If I hadn't made that trade I probably would have been an advisor to the owner a lot earlier," joked Sinden.
Neely's life would have been even more different had that deal not been consummated.
"I have thought about that," said Neely. "The only conclusion I have been able to come up with is that I probably wouldn't have been able to accomplish what I did. What I would have been to accomplish, I couldn't say. It's impossible to say. Maybe if I want to another team something similar would have happened, but obviously coming here was the best thing for me."