VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Cam Neely is coming home to where his NHL career started in the hopes he can achieve the one goal he failed to attain before his playing days ended.
The Boston Bruins president was born on nearby Vancouver Island and grew up a Canucks’ fan in suburban Maple Ridge. He was drafted ninth overall by Vancouver in 1983, but was traded after three seasons to Boston, where the dominant power forward built a Hall of Fame career that was cut short by injuries — and without a Stanley Cup.
It’s a hole in his resume that Neely hopes his Bruins can fill. They trail 1-0 going into Game 2 Saturday night.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to do it in a uniform, but hopefully I can do it in a suit,” Neely said. “It would be by far the next best thing, there’s no question.”
And what better way to do it then against the team he grew up cheering for and which traded him away on his 21st birthday on June 6, 1986. The 25th anniversary of that deal, regarded by many Canucks fans as the worst in franchise history, coincides with Game 3 in Boston on Monday. It will be the city’s first Stanley Cup finals game since Neely’s last in 1990.
“It was an interesting birthday gift that I was given,” said Neely, who was dealt to Boston along with a first-round pick that the Bruins turned into defenseman Glen Wesley, in exchange for aging veteran Barry Pederson.
There is no question where his allegiance now lies, though Neely admits to keeping close tabs on his old team. And the parallels of both teams trying to end long Cup droughts — 39 years for Boston, and Vancouver still looking for its first since entering the league in 1970 — isn’t lost on Neely either.
“Obviously to be in the final is special to begin with,” he said. “Coming back to Vancouver, obviously got some family and friends excited about it as well. … Being a former player, growing up here. It’s an interesting matchup, but it’s exciting for sure.”
Neely was part of the last Bruins team that got this close, losing in five games to the Edmonton Oilers in 1990. A questionable hit by Pittsburgh’s Ulf Samuelsson in the conference finals the next season would begin the end of an impressive career that saw Neely score 395 goals and record 694 points in 726 games, and earn a Hall of Fame induction in 2005. He joined the Bruins as a vice president in 2007 and became president last summer.
He says it’s a lot harder to watch than it was to play, in part because he can’t hit anyone.
“I’m still trying to get used to it,” Neely said. Neely lost his parents to cancer and said the Vancouver contingent is down to two sisters, a grandmother, an aunt and some cousins. Like Neely, their allegiances are expected to be with the black and gold.
“If it’s not, they’re not coming to the games,” he joked. While Neely knows how important a Stanley Cup would be to the city he used to call home, he says it’s Boston’s turn for a title.
“The Celtics, the Patriots, the Red Sox have won recently,” he said. “We have an amazing fan base that has come back in droves the last few years and supported us again like they did maybe in the ’80s and early ’90s. They deserve a Cup. They really do deserve a Cup.”
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