Honorees display American know-how
The NHL celebrated American hockey last night at TD Garden, with Bruins president Cam Neely, Boston College coach Jerry York, Boston University coach Jack Parker, and Dave Andrews, president of the American Hockey League, all receiving the Lester Patrick Award in recognition of their outstanding service to the game in the United States.
Once was the time, in the days of the Original Six, when US-born players weren’t part of NHL rosters. With apologies to Frank Brimsek, born in Eveleth, Minn., Tom Williams was the first Yank to join the Bruins in the modern era, pulling on the Boston sweater for the first time during the 1961-62 season.
“Great guy, Tommy,’’ said his former linemate, John Bucyk, who attended last night’s soiree on Causeway Street as a past Patrick winner. “He could skate. He really swooped around, deking and diving.’’
Williams was part of the Bruins’ “BOW’’ line, along with Bucyk and Murray Oliver. Bucyk recalled one of Williams’s first Boston training camps when the young kid from Duluth, Minn., playing golf in a foursome behind Bucyk’s group, knocked his drive within 2 feet of the cup on the green that Bucyk’s foursome was just about to leave.
“Son of a gun, when he got there, it was in the hole!’’ recalled Bucyk, summoning up a laugh nearly a half-century old. “So that meant . . . uh . . . he had to buy [drinks] all day. We never told him, either. He had that ball mounted and framed.’’
Parker, looking relaxed and spry after having heart surgery this summer, noted that while American-born players may have joined the party late in the NHL’s life, a fair number of Americans have gone on to be top NHL executives, including Toronto general manager Brian Burke and New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello.
And it has always been the NHL, added Parker, that inspired Americans to watch and play the game.
“I was one of them,’’ recalled Parker. “I remember sneaking into the old Garden for a Rangers practice just to see Andy Bathgate shoot a wrist shot.’’
Parker and York, local boys and pals for decades, have been able to maintain that friendship despite the heated rivalry between the two Comm. Ave. campuses.
“We both wake up each day doing the same thing,’’ said York, “and that’s doing whatever we can to make our teams better.’’
Andrews has directed the AHL as president for 16 years. It’s a job, noted Burke, also in attendance as a previous winner, akin to that of a firefighter. Andrews through the years has dealt constantly with franchise sales and transfers.
“He’s a real builder,’’ said Burke, “but he’s got a job that’s crisis after crisis.’’