Close to 500 minor hockey players and their parents filled the floor of the Cam Neely Arena on Friday morning to get a glimpse of the rink’s namesake as he brought the Stanley Cup back to Maple Ridge, the town he still considers home.
“I came here in ‘76 and spent seven years here,” Neely said as he accompanied the NHL’s biggest prize. “A lot of my youth hockey and my development happened here.
“I still call it home.”
If there were any sore feelings from Vancouver hockey fans after the Boston Bruins beat the Canucks in seven games in the Stanley Cup final, there was no evidence on Friday as Neely, now president of the Bruins organization, received a hero’s welcome.
Neely’s Stanley Cup visit marked the third time since 2006 the most storied trophy in professional sports has included Maple Ridge on its victory tour. In 2006 and 2010, Maple Ridge’s Andrew Ladd brought the Cup home after winning it with the Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively.
Neely said he’s always been touched by the appreciation his hometown has showed him. In February, Neely was in Maple Ridge for the unveiling of a wooden carving that bears his likeness that now resides in the rink.
“It’s very special,” he said looking over the crowd. “It’s quite an honour to have an arena named after you, and to see what they did with that piece of wood… it’s pretty special.”
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said Neely’s achievements off the ice raising money for cancer research after the disease took the lives of both his parents help make him the perfect role model for local youngsters, as much as anything he accomplished in his 13 seasons in the NHL.
“It’s a great day for Maple Ridge,” said Daykin
“He was the first Maple Ridge kid to make it to the bigs… so it’s fitting this is in the arena that bears his name.”
Members of the local minor hockey community were invited to private event and lined up to have their pictures taken with Neely and the Stanley Cup. As part of the Stanley Cup celebration, autographed memorabilia was auctioned off with the money raised going to fund local minor hockey.
“He wanted this day to be for the kids,” said Daykin. “It really speaks to the fact that he’s a hometown hero.”