It’s been 21 years since Maple Ridge’s Cam Neely was in a Stanley Cup final, but even though he’s now wearing a suit instead of a uniform for the Boston Bruins, he is happy for another opportunity to win the Holy Grail of hockey.
“Obviously it’s different from being a player, but it’s exciting being back,” says Neely. “This is the ultimate goal, this what every hockey player wants.”
Neely was last in the Stanley Cup finals in 1990, when the Bruins were ousted by the Gretzky-less Edmonton Oilers in five games. Today, Neely sits at the helm of the Bruins organization as team president.
But there was a time for Neely when a return to the Stanley Cup final as anything other than a spectator was the furthest thing from his mind.
After Neely left the game he loved in 1996, after 13 injury-plauged years in the NHL, he says he tried his best to leave the world of hockey behind.
“I didn’t give hockey much thought after I left,” he says. “It was hard, I felt like I could still play, but my body wasn’t up to it.”
Neely averaged nearly a point per game in his final season of play, but injuries to his knees and hips left him in constant pain while on the ice.
Monday was the 25th anniversary of the trade that sent Neely from the Vancouver Canucks to the Boston Bruins, considered one of the most regrettable trades in Vancouver hockey history.
It was also Neely’s 46th birthday, one that he hopes he will be able to celebrate with a win tonight in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series.
While many Maple Ridge residents will be hoping his team posts their third loss of the series, Neely admires their passion for the Canucks.
“I grew up in Maple Ridge, so I know how exciting it is for fans in B.C. to get to the finals,” he said.
Neely’s two sisters still live in Maple Ridge; he visited them during his recent stop in Vancouver for Games 1 and 2.
“So far it’s been a successful postseason,” said Neely. “We had a couple years where we didn’t get past the second round, so to get past that is big for us.
“But the ultimate goal is the cup, and that’s what we’re focussed on.”