In 1966, the New York Rangers bestowed the Lester Patrick Award to the NHL to honor the memory of a man who spent his life giving to the sport — as a player, a coach, a general manager and a pioneer.
Forty-four years later, the prestigious award continues to draw an impressive class of recipients.
On Wednesday night at the TD Garden, Cam Neely, Jack Parker, Jerry York and the president of the AHL, Dave Andrews, will be honored.
There have been 108 individuals and three teams to win the award in its rich history. This year is no different for those being honored for outstanding contributions to the sport of hockey.
In the 16 years that it has been guided by David Andrews, the AHL has scaled previously unimagined heights to emerge as the proving ground at which nearly every North American-born player ?- and many Europeans ?- must pass through before embarking on a career in the National Hockey League.
Since being named the AHL’s ninth president in 1994, Andrews has presided over a period of unprecedented growth, establishing for the league a continent-wide footprint and drawing unprecedented exposure to what many consider the best hockey league in the world other than the NHL. During Andrews’ tenure, the AHL has more than doubled its league-wide annual attendance, exponentially increased its coverage on television and forged sponsorship partnerships with dozens of major corporations.
All of that has been accomplished during a period that included one of the most dramatic expansions in the history of professional sports ?- the addition of nine teams in 2001, including six from the dissolving IHL. Throw in the day-to-day unpredictability of running a league in which change is the only constant, and Andrews’ body of work with the AHL is even more remarkable.
New York Rangers captain Chris Drury, the 1998 Hobey Baker Award-winner as a BU senior perhaps put it best: “I think, as far as the school and the program go, he is it. He is the face of a lot of the school -? certainly the athletic department and the hockey program. Considering the years he’s put in and the successful years he’s had, right into completing the new student center and hockey rink, Jack Parker is everything to that program.”
Then again, Boston University is everything to Parker.
There has been all the winning since Parker first stepped behind the BU bench in 1973. He has coached the Terriers to three national championships (1978, 1995 and 2009), 21 Beanpot Tournament titles and seven Hockey East conference titles. His teams have won 20 or more games 25 times in his 37 completed seasons on the job, compiling an 836-432-104 record entering this season, making Parker one of only three coaches in NCAA history (along with Ron Mason and fellow 2010 Lester Patrick Award honoree Jerry York) to have won 800 games. Parker is the only one, though, to have done it all at one school.
But as successful as Parker has been on the ice, his support for those who have played for him goes well beyond the X’s and O’s of the game.
Just ask one of the best.
“I kind of compare playing for him to what I’ve read and heard people say about playing for Bill Parcells,” Drury said. “When you first play for him, you’re scared to death of him. You think he’s crazy -? playing mind games. He’s intimidating. You name it, he’s doing it. But slowly, by the third or fourth year of playing for him, you’re just afraid of letting him down. You learn why he does things. And you don’t want to let him down because you love him so much.”
In 1972, at age 26, he became the youngest head coach in the nation when he took over at Clarkson. In seven seasons there, his teams went 125-87-3 -? including a 26-8-0, ECAC championship season in 1976-77.
York moved on to Bowling Green in 1979 and, after two program-building seasons, directed year after year of resounding success ?- including a run of nine straight 20-win campaigns that resulted in five CCHA regular season and tournament titles and the 1984 national championship. It was at Bowling Green where York coached Washington Capitals vice president and general manager George McPhee, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 1982; Rob Blake, who won the 1998 Norris Trophy; and Dan Bylsma, who coached Pittsburgh to the 2009 Stanley Cup.
Finally, in 1994, York came home to Boston College ?- the place where he was an All-American and team captain who scored 64 goals with 70 assists and played in an NCAA championship game in his 81-game collegiate career. After another brief building period, York restored his alma mater to national prominence. BC hasn’t left that perch since.
Eleven seasons of 24 wins or more. Eleven Hockey East regular-season or tournament titles. Three more national championships ?- 2001, 2008 and last season, when the Eagles went 29-10-3 and beat Wisconsin, 5-0, in the NCAA title game. And dozens more players like 2000 Hobey Baker winner Mike Mottau and 2009 Stanley Cup winners Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, whose games were elevated and whose days were brightened by Jerry York.
Finally, one of the most beloved Boston Bruins. His No. 8 jersey hangs high above the rafters for all to see. His name is forever enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Cam Neely was the hockey player the other hockey players wanted to be,” longtime Bruins coach, GM and president Harry Sinden said. “He was blessed with a rare blend of talent, strength and determination and inspired other players to play as he did — hard and unrelenting.”
Upon arriving in Boston via a trade with Vancouver, Neely scored 36 goals in 1986-87. And that was just the start of a dominant five-year stretch during which he scored 221 goals -? including 55 in 1988-89 and 51 in 1990-91 ?- while averaging 145 penalty minutes per season.
Neely produced one more astounding season, needing just 44 games to score 50 goals in 1993-94 ?- the fastest to 50 of any player in NHL history other than Wayne Gretzky. By then, though, injuries had begun to take their toll — he won the 1994 Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey — leading to the premature end to Neely’s playing career at age 31.
Even so, his 395 goals and 1,241 penalty minutes in 726 career NHL games ?- not to mention five All-Star Game appearances -? merited selection to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005. And his 344 goals and 590 points as a Bruin resulted in his No. 8 being included among the honored numbers hung from the rafters of the Garden ?- in addition to his evoking a level of admiration among Boston fans that few athletes ever have while inspiring a new generation of Boston youngsters to love and play hockey.