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The dirtiest player in the league, a generational talent, and a three-team beef

August 22, 2019


– Regardless of who they played for, Cam Neely and Ulf Samuelsson never would have liked one another. It just so happened that their
teams hated each other too. So by the time we got to this hit, no one minded another serving of beef. (sprightly string music) Cam Neely was a talented kid
from just outside Vancouver. He got drafted ninth overall
by his hometown team in 1983, but after a slow start, the Canucks traded Neely to Boston. In his first season with the Bruins, he quickly made a good impression and averaged 44 goals per season from ’86-’87 through ’90-’91. In addition to the scoring,
if he didn’t feel like skating around the defense, he
could go right through them. Fans loved him for not
shying away from contact or being afraid to drop his gloves. And the coaches loved that
he led the team in scoring each of his first five seasons as a Bruin. He was also quick to
embrace Boston’s rivalry with the guys less than two hours away. The Hartford Whalers were
disliked by the Bruins before they even entered the league. When the WHA NHL merger was in the works, Boston attempted to block the deal and threatened to sue the
league if it happened, arguing that they had territorial
rights to New England. It didn’t work for Boston and became the spark to a feud that grew as the Whalers got better. One of the Whalers who drew
the most ire from the Bruins was Swedish defenseman, Ulf Samuelsson. Drafted in 1982, Samuelsson had become one of
Hartford’s best defenders. And while he wasn’t a
major goal-scoring threat, he was a nuisance to the
opposition for his physical play that even he admitted wasn’t always legal. Those questionable tactics made
him a marked man in Boston, especially after a
run-in with Ken Linseman resulted in ligament damage
to the Bruins’ center in ’86. After that, Samuelsson got
to know Neely pretty well. The pair found each other
regularly in the matchups and antagonized one
another when they could. Samuelsson enjoyed it
because it meant Neely was focusing on him
instead of scoring goals. But it also cost Ulf at times when he paid more attention
to Neely than the puck. For Cam, the real annoyance
came from the fact that Samuelsson wore massive shoulder pads plus a half shield, but wouldn’t drop his gloves. But during the 1990, 1991 season, Neely finally got that to change. On December 12th and 13th of 1990, the teams played a home and home. The Bruins took the first game 5 to 1 and had a 7-2 lead in the third
period of the second matchup when Ed Kastelic caught
Craig Janney with an elbow. – [Commentator] Right there! – [Presenter] Neely and the
rest of the Bruins took offense. The Whalers defended themselves, and then both benches got involved. Tempers remained high, and after the Bruins added to the lead, Samuelsson finally dropped gloves and got worked by Neely. – [Commentator] Protect the nose, Cam. Protect the nose. – Ulf said that the next
game would be interesting, but when the team squared
off again in late January, the Bruins won easily, and Samuelsson didn’t even take a minor. Before the guys got another
chance to renew their feud, Hartford sent Samuelsson
in a package to Pittsburgh, and his rivalry with the
Bruins came to a close. Well, actually, hang on. Yup, yup, the Bruins
hated the Penguins also. So, part deux. By leaving the Adams Division
to don the black and yellow, Samuelsson stepped into a rivalry that had been ignited
by similar pettiness. The Bruins began their
hatred for Pittsburgh when the Penguins wanted
to change their team colors in order to match the
Steelers and the Pirates. But Boston, being an original six team, felt it would infringe
on the Bruins’ brand. The protest failed, and naturally, the teams
met in the first round of the playoffs just a few months later. The Bruins took the series 3 to 2, but not before a game five scrum featuring a rookie named Ray Bourque. From there, these teams gave
us moments like Mario Lemieux taking the puck from Bourque
to score his first NHL goal on his first shot during his first shift. Or in 1987, they combined
for one of the last bench-clearing brawls in the NHL. But since that playoff encounter in 1980, a post-season matchup had alluded them. That is, until Ulf
Samuelsson became a Penguin. That’s not because he was like
a missing piece or anything. It’s just a convenient
storytelling device. In the 1991 Prince of
Wales Conference Finals, Boston and Pittsburgh faced off. Neely was coming off a 51-goal
season in just 69 games. He netted another dozen through the first 13 games of the post-season. Samuelsson took note, making it his mission
to keep Neely in check. They got reacquainted in the second game, sending Neely to the bench for a moment. Not long after, Cam would open the scoring with his third goal in
the first two games. So Samuelsson’s mission
hadn’t been too successful. The Bruins won the game in overtime and headed to Pittsburgh up 2 nothing, which takes us to the hit. The Bruin slowly made his way to the bench where head coach Mike Milbury went wild, breaking a stick apart as he attempted to get the referee’s attention. Neely would take the ice
again, plead his case, but wouldn’t finish the game. He spoke afterwards about how
much worse it could have been. – I could have blown my knee out and been out for the rest
of the year, or even longer. So, I mean, it’s very upsetting to me. – [Presenter] Samuelsson didn’t see anything wrong with the hit, nor did he care how others felt about it. When asked about his
foe, Neely added that, “He plays a physical game,
which is fine with me. “But he also plays a game
I have no respect for. “When confronted, he’s
not around too much. “There are times when you’ve
got to back yourself up.” Milbury didn’t hide his
frustration, calling the hit part of Pittsburgh coach Bob Johnson’s strategy, and making it clear that he had full intention of matching that mentality. – I think we’re gonna
have to respond to it, and I think we’re gonna have to play an extremely physical game. – [Presenter] In game four,
he’d call up some help from Allen Pedersen, Bob Beers, Nevin
Markwart and Lyndon Byers. The quartet had combined for
seven goals on the season to go with 235 penalty minutes. – What do you think, I’m a goon? Is it ’cause I got 830 minutes
of penalty in 200 games? I mean, what do I got to do? I got 29 goals. I hit two goals this year. Don’t pressure me. – Apart from a couple scrums,
the plan didn’t exactly work. Pittsburgh won four
straight to take the series and would win another four to take home the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Throughout the series, Samuelsson
got under Neely’s skin, and a collision between
the pair in game six did damage to Cam’s other leg,
causing a thigh contusion. As the Penguins celebrated the Cup, Neely’s body reacted to the injury by ossifying the contusion, which means it began turning
the muscle into bone. Neely dodged surgery and set his sights on the
next time he’d see Samuelsson, where he wasn’t necessarily
going to give him a beating, but he’d like to. Don Cherry agreed that Samuelsson was due for a lesson sometime soon. – His day is coming, folks. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a matter of time, and I wanna know who’s gonna be the hero. – [Presenter] Samuelsson, though, didn’t understand why people were still talking about a hit from last season. His agent, who just so
happened to also be Neely’s, said that Ulf privately felt bad for what had happened to Cam and had asked about how he was doing. Neely ended up sitting out
until January of that season, so his teammates looked to
deliver payback on his behalf. Unfortunately for them, Samuelsson would miss all three games against Boston that year. When Neely did finally return, he scored nine goals in nine games but was put back on the shelf and declared out for the season. To add insult to injury,
Samuelsson and the Penguins would win their second consecutive cup, beating Boston in four
straight along the way. Neely would require two
surgeries to his knee, but the good news was
that he and Samuelsson finally shared the ice
on March 27th, 1993. And in the middle of the second,
had a chance to reconnect. Neely got ejected and
felt far from satisfied with the turtling of his opponent, continuing to voice displeasure in Samuelsson not wanting to fight. He got a few punches in
the following December, and more importantly, scored a goal while Ulf was on the ice. Samuelsson admitted that
it was tougher to watch Neely score than some other player, and summed up their
relationship pretty simply. That season, Cam netted 50
goals in less than 50 games. He’d also tear his MCL in March, as his legs continued to struggle to hold up for a full season. Samuelsson moved on to the
Rangers for the ’95-’96 season, and while the rivalry followed
for the first meeting, Neely would play his
final game that February. He announced his retirement
in the summer of ’96. Doctors said that there was no connection between his run-in with Samuelsson and his latest ailments, but player and team weren’t too convinced. He was just 26 years old
when he collided with Ulf and retired at 31. Still making it clear that if Ulf was quicker to drop gloves, they likely would have put
some of it behind them. As for Samuelsson, he
kept going until 2001, well after the universe got even with him through the hands of Tie Domi. (triumphant string music)

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