Cam Neely was the ultimate Boston Bruin. Character, perseverance, team work, physical play, play to death, win - all traits that can be easily used to describe both Neely and his B's.
Cam Neely actually started his NHL career with his hometown Vancouver Canucks when they made him their first round selection way back in 1983. Neely probably turned out to be their best first round pick ever selected by the Vancouver Canucks. It's just too bad, as any Canucks fan will tell you, they traded him away so early in his career.
The trade happened on Neely's 21st birthday. In hindsight it was the best birthday present he probably ever got. The floundering Canucks traded him and the third overall draft pick in 1987 ( Boston selected Glen Wesley who went on to a career spanning 2 decades) for Barry Pederson, who at the time was a star in the league but was coming off of two major shoulder surgeries to remove a benign tumor. Pederson never did regain his superstar form. Neely became the Bruins leading scorer and the Boston Garden's fan favorite.
Cam would score 36, 40, and 38 goals in his first 3 seasons with Boston. Cam would go on to record two straight 50 goal seasons before he suffered a major blow to his knee. During the Bruins Conference Final against Pittsburgh, a cheap hit on Cam's thigh by rival defenseman Ulf Sameulsson began Cam's injury woe's that would plague him for the rest of his tragically shortened career.
Limited to 22 games the next 2 seasons Cam still managed to chip in 20 goals and 10 assists, and added 4 playoff goals in the '93 playoffs.
Cam returned for the 93-94 season scoring 50 goals for the third time. It took Cam only 44 games to reach the 50 goal plateau, only Wayne Gretzky has done it faster. (Mario Lemieux in the 88-89 season also scored 50 in 44 games.) Cam hurt his knee again shortly after scoring his 50th, and missed the playoffs that season.
Again, Cam went into an extensive rehabilitation program, and returned in the strike shortened season of 1994-95 and scored 27 goals in 42 games. The 1995-96 season proved to be Cam's last, as on February 7, 1996 the Boston Bruins suffered perhaps their worst loss in franchise history. They lost to Buffalo in overtime 2-1, but Cam suffered a degenerative hip condition forced Cam into a premature retirement. But not before he had established himself in the hearts of Bruin fans everywhere. Cam played the game the way it was meant to be played. Cam was as devastating with his body checks and fists, as he was with his goal scoring exploits. Cam's intense efforts to come back time and again from devastating injuries were recognized with his winning of the Masterton Trophy after the 93-94 season.
On January 12th, 2004, the Boston Bruins bestowed their highest honor on Neely, retiring his jersey number 8 high to the rafters, never to be worn again. It was a fitting tribute, as Neely truly ranks with the Bruins all time greats like Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Raymond Bourque.
Neely's career lasted 726 games, long enough to earn enshrinement in Hockey's Hall of Fame. In those 726 career games his numbers were staggering - 395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points, not to mention a healthy 1241 penalty minutes. And he carried on his production in the clutch when games mattered most. In 93 Stanley Cup playoff games he scored 57 goals and 89 points. Had he been healthy he possibly could have challenged the 650 goal mark.
As amazing of a goal scorer that he was, lighting the lamp did not define Cam Neely. He was the ultimate power forward of his time. His hands were as soft as a feather when he handled the puck, yet hard as a rock when handled an enemy. Defensemen feared going back into their corner to chase a loose puck knowing Neely was right behind them. As a forechecker he was relentless and imposing. He was an insane body checker and a dangerous fighter. Through his physical play he set the tone of games.
The physical game took it's toll on Neely's body, yet he handled diversity with the utmost of class. He showed courage and perseverance, and a deep love of the game. Cam Neely gave everything he had to the game of hockey - his blood, sweat and tears, his hip, quad and knee, and most of all his heart.