VANCOUVER – A proud native of British Columbia, Cam Neely dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup on a regular basis during his childhood.
Never, however, did he think it would come trying to beat his hometown Vancouver Canucks while dressed in a suit and sitting in a press box suite, completely removed from exerting his considerable will on the outcome of the game.
"I didn't have a chance to do (win the Stanley Cup) in a uniform, but hopefully can do it in a suit," Neely said Tuesday afternoon as his Boston Bruins prepare to play the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Today, Neely is the President of the Boston Bruins, 15 years removed from a Hall-of-Fame career that began with the hometown Canucks in 1983. After three underwhelming years in Vancouver, Neely was traded to Boston, along with a first-round pick, for Barry Pederson in a deal that essentially rewrote the Bruins' history for almost two decades.
In fact, the 25th anniversary of the deal will arrive later this week, falling on June 6 – the night of Game 3 at Boston Garden.
The irony is not lost on Neely.
"It was pointed out to me," Neely said. "When I saw that date, it also happens to be my birthday -- it was an interesting birthday gift that I was given. I don't know if it was from the Canucks or Boston when I got traded."
From whomever the gift came, it was one of the best Neely has ever received.
The rugged power forward quickly became an icon in Boston, his hard work and pugnacious style an immediate attraction to the region's blue-collar ethos. Soon, Neely was an honorary Bostonian, as much a son of the city as any local.
Now, on hockey's biggest stage, his two homes – Vancouver and Boston – battle for hockey supremacy and the most famous trophy in all of sports.
Yet, Neely has no divided loyalties, despite still having quite a bit of family left in this area. He is a Bruin through and through now and expects his closest friends and family from this area to be the same.
"Listen, when you grow up around here, you certainly root for the local team," he said. "I've got some friends and family that root for Vancouver when we don't play against them. They have a hard time, obviously, when we do play against them.
"As I said earlier, I certainly hope if they're in the building (for Game 1) and they're related to me or friends of mine they'll be cheering for the Bruins -- at least quietly."
Neely is anything but quiet. However, when it comes to the Bruins, he has lived and died with every virtually twist and turn endured this spring by the team he has put together. He still takes losses as hard as he did as a player, often displaying that same fierce scowl that would put fear into some of the League's toughest defenseman during the apex of Neely's playing career.
Last round, in Tampa Bay, Neely and Peter Chiarelli, the team's GM, sat at the end of the St. Pete Times Forum press box and Neely suffered – not so silently – through every cruel twist of fate during the final two games, bouncing out of his seat, throwing hands skyward in a pleading fashion or groaning painfully as things went bad for the Bruins in the second period of each of those games.
He admits it is not easy being a passive observer.
"It's much harder watching than playing, yes," Neely admitted Tuesday. "I'm still trying to get used to it."
While he may still be struggling to reign in the emotional tenor that made his such a fierce player during his Hall of Fame career, he has transitioned into the role seamlessly, pairing with Chiarelli to reshape the Boston roster into one that has put recent spring disappointments in the rear-view mirror.
Now, the Bruins are just four wins away from winning their first title since 1972. And, even if Neely has only lived through the past quarter-century of the drought, he has been around long enough to know what a championship would mean to his adopted city.
He has seen the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and New England Patriots win multiple titles since he arrived on Causeway Street in 1986. He has watched enviously as each of those teams has become heroes while his Bruins fight for the same recognition.
Indeed, Neely knows the stakes on the table during the course of the next two weeks.
"It's important for a lot of reasons," Neely said. "It's been a long time obviously that the Bruins have won a Cup. You're right, the Celtics, the Patriots, the Red Sox have won recently. 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. We're going to do all we can to try and realize that for them."