Playing a matinee game no matter the time of year always appealed to ex-Bruins great Cam Neely.
"It was something I wasn't accustomed to until I got to Boston, and it was great," Neely told NHL.com in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. "You wake up, go right to the rink and get into the game mode as opposed to going to rink, having a morning skate, lunch, then pregame nap, and having all that time to think about the game."
For Neely, though, there was nothing like playing in the matinee game in Boston on the day after Thanksgiving. That was always different and always special because of the kids in the stands and the family atmosphere that was felt throughout the building, even on the ice.
"You always thought about looking around a little bit in warm-ups to see a bunch of kids in there," Neely said, "which was cool because it brought you back to when you were a kid and the buzz of the first NHL game that you ever attended."
Neely took part in Boston's first Black Friday home afternoon game on Nov. 23, 1990. Twenty-one years later, the tradition that has been interrupted only by NHL work stoppages in 1994 and 2004 is going national with NBC set to broadcast the first 2011 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown between the host Bruins and the visiting Detroit Red Wings at 1 p.m. ET on Friday.
"I think it's fantastic for our organization, our players and our fans, especially those that aren't in the New England area that have a more difficult time getting a chance to watch the games," said Neely, now the president of the Bruins. "Coming off the Cup like we did and now being on a pretty good role, winning nine straight (heading into Wednesday night), it's a great time for us to be in this situation.
"It's against another Original Six team, and that's always exciting," he added. "We don't play Detroit all that often so it's a good opportunity for us to play a good team and to be on the national stage. I think the guys are going to be excited about it."
The Bruins day-after-Thanksgiving tradition began with a 4-3 loss to the Hartford Whalers. Neely was held without a point and picked up 10 penalty minutes.
Boston won the next five day-after-the-holiday matinee games, beating Montreal, Hartford, Florida, Los Angeles and Vancouver. Neely, though, played in only the 1995 game against the Kings, a 2-1 win thanks in part to a goal he scored. He was injured for three games from 1991-95, and had retired prior to the 1996-97 season.
The game against Los Angeles on Nov. 23, 1995 was the first day-after-Thanksgiving game in what is now known as TD Garden. The Bruins have won only five of the past 13 tradition games and are 10-7-2 in the matinee game, but with Neely in the organization they are 6-2-1.
Neely returned as an executive in 2007.
"There is no question it is a different crowd," Neely said. "New England is a big hockey region, so for families to bring sons and daughters to a game on a weekday afternoon is something special. It's the day after Thanksgiving, everybody is looking to do something, you're still with family, and to have the opportunity to get out of the house and spend time together at a hockey game is a treat for a lot of families, a lot of kids.
"I always thought it was a great tradition (the Bruins) started because I love the afternoon game."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl