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NHL Media Conference Call with Cam Neely

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins

NHL Media Conference Call

2005 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee Cam Neely

DAVID KEON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm David Keon with the National Hockey League's public relations department, and I'd like to welcome you to today's call. Our guest is 2005 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Cam Neely. Thanks to Cam for taking time today to answer your questions and thanks to Heidi Holland of the Boston Bruins public relations department for helping to arrange this call. This coming Monday, November 7th, in Toronto, Cam along with Russian legends Valeri Kharlamov and Hockey Canada executive Murray Costello be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The ninth overall selection in the 1983 Entry Draft, Cam played 726 regular season games in a 13-year career with Vancouver and Boston. He recorded 395 goals and 299 assists for 694 points. In 93 playoff games, he scored 57 goals and added 32 assists for 89 points. A five-time NHL All-Star Game participant, Cam was the winner of the 1994, Bill Masterton Trophy awarded to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. His No. 8 was retired by Boston in January of 2004, and last week he was named as a Bruins Ambassador, a position that will have him making appearances on behalf of the hockey team and the Bruins Foundation. Again, we thank Cam for taking the time to join us today and answer your questions.

Q. I would like to ask if the following statement would be correct: Cam Neely efforts to help cancer patients and their families outweighs anything he accomplished through hockey.

CAM NEELY: Well, I think it's obviously, from my point of view, the importance of what my foundation has been able to accomplish in the 10 years and how many patients and families we've been able to help certainly outweighs any kind of hockey career that I may have had.

Q. Congratulations. Could you have ever imagined the events of your 21st birthday, specifically the trade, changing the rest of your hockey life?

CAM NEELY: No, not at all. Obviously very kind of surprised moment, I was being traded, or was traded to the Bruins from the Canucks. I certainly wasn't expecting it. Never saw it coming, and subsequently didn't really know what to expect once I got to Boston. No idea that my career would have turned out the way that it did playing in Boston for those 10 years.

Q. What do you attribute your success in Boston to?

CAM NEELY: I think I just got a great opportunity right from day one in training camp in '86 to really either play well or not play well. It wasn't -- they just said, let's see what he could do. I played with some of the top players right from the get-go of training camp and just as time went on, got more and more confidence. Obviously I think the style that I played was very well suited to the Boston Garden, the old Boston Garden, so I don't think that hurt at all.

Q. And could you have foreseen yourself as a big-time scorer while you were i n Vancouver?

CAM NEELY: I mean, I don't see why not, if I had the opportunity. I think I played more in my rookie year in Vancouver than I did my third year.

It's just tough situations. Canucks were always struggling to make the playoffs, .500 hockey club seemed to be the goal back then to get into the playoffs and then we always either had to face either Edmonton or Calgary which we didn't fare too well. I was playing behind Stan Smyl and Tony Tanti at the time, so I didn't see a lot of ice time, certainly didn't see any on the power plays.

Q. Welcome to the Hall of Fame on Monday. I can say that Montreal hockey fans were almost sorry to see you retire, given the success that you had against the hockey club here. Can you speak a little bit about how it was that you came to own Patrick Roy as well as you did during your playing days, and can you talk about your special memories of the rivalry that your Bruins had against the Canadiens?

CAM NEELY: Absolutely. Early on, right from the get go, I knew how special the rivalry was between Boston and Montreal. It didn't take long to get the feeling, not just from the players' standpoint or the organization's, but also from the fans in both cities.

I certainly can remember going into Montreal and really getting that feeling that this was going to be a great game, even though it might have been Game 4 of the regular season, you know, the crowd was always into it; the teams knew what playing each other meant. So it was just -- I just remember really getting excited about playing Montreal, whether it was the regular-season game or a playoff game.

And in regards to Patrick, I really understood the way he played the game and I saw how he played and what his techniques were. As everybody knows, you don't have a great deal of time to look and see where you're going to shoot the puck. I just saw the way his style was and generally felt that there's really only a couple of places to try and put the puck without really taking the time to look. And one was either top corner as he was kind of going down with the style that he had; or, try and get it between his legs as he was going down.

I think on the other hand, too, from Patrick's point of view, maybe as somebody kind of has some success against you, mentally it might start playing on you as well.

Q. I wanted to ask if you've had in retirement occasion to renew acquaintances or make friends with guys would have been bitter enemies from the Canadiens in those days?

CAM NEELY: Actually Russ Courtnall. I played with Geoff; Geoff was my first roommate here in Boston. And I couldn't stand Russ, playing against him, obviously.

And the way I had to play the game, I never really liked getting to know anybody on other teams because most guys, as everybody knows, are good guys and I just didn't feel comfortable to get to know anybody on the other team. I played with John Kordic when I played junior hockey in Portland, so I knew him, but it was ver y difficult to have any kind of a relationship with anybody on the Montreal Canadiens when you're playing the Boston Bruins.

Q. Can you tell us if you have any sort of lingering effects from the injury, and at some time after your retirement did you consider trying to make a comeback?

CAM NEELY: I do have lingering effects. I feel pain in my hip every day, but it's something you learn to deal with. Fortunately, I can prolong any kind of replacement until down the road.

Three years after I had to retire, I was feeling really -- really, really good. Started getting some different treatment and started skating again and picked up my pace. Subsequently started to practice a couple of times with the Bruins at that time in '99, but after a couple of really hard practices, realized that there was just no way to continue.

Q. Not that you wouldn't have got in the Hall eventually, but there's quite a lineup forming behind you with all of the players who have retired in the last couple of years; are you cognizant of that?

CAM NEELY: No question. To be honest with you, I don't really think about too many things that I can't control. I feel very fortunate obviously that I had a career in the NHL; albeit there was some years I would have liked to have played a lot more than I did.

And then, getting recognized for the way that I played, I certainly am very appreciative of that. And obviously with expansion and guys taking care of themselves a little bit better than years and years ago, careers are lasting longer and guys are able to continue to play a little bit more. But there's a bunch of guys, from the years that I've played, that are now starting to retire that have had Hall of Fame careers obviously.

Q. I was just wondering if you ever really thought a lot about the "what ifs," about if your career had not ended so soon, so early, and was it especially hard, especially while you were still a lot younger, did you have a lot of times where you grappled with that?

CAM NEELY: Not so much about the what ifs. I think anybody can look at what ifs from the moment they were born, really moving forward with anything that happened in each individual's lives, you can always find the "what if." So I never really looked at that too much.

Listen, the way that I played the game, it would be shocking if I didn't have some injuries, and that's the only way that I could play the game to help my team and also to be a better hockey player. And I enjoyed playing that way.

So would I, at 30 years old, 31, 32, certainly would have loved to have been playing, and really felt that I obviously still could have contributed the way I wanted to contribute, but it wasn't really the case. I'm not going to sit here and say it wasn't difficult to walk away from the game. It was extremely difficult to walk away from the game when I felt that I could still play at a high level. So that took a few years.

But just like anything, any athlete that is forced to retire will tell you, only time makes things better. Being 40 now, I doubt that I would be playing the last probably two or three years, anyway. So once I hit an age where I realized even if I was healthy, I probably wouldn't be playing, or if I was playing, I wouldn't be playing it the way I would like to be playing.

Q. When you retired, when you were forced out of the game, were your thoughts on the Hall of Fame at all, did you think you had a shot or maybe the injuries cost you a shot at it?
CAM NEELY: To be honest, I never really concerned myself too much with the Hall of Fame, just like I never really concerned myself with numbers when I played. I just went out and played and did what I tried to do best, which the only thing I knew I could do was work hard; whether I played well or not was another story, but I knew I could work hard game-in and game-out.

Again, as I said earlier, I'm not really one to think about too many things that I can't control, and I think I learned that at an early age. It's just something I never really put too much thought into.

Q. And just wondering biographically, do you live in Boston now, and if yes, do you ever get back to the West Coast at all?

CAM NEELY: Yeah, I do, actually. My sisters and their families are still outside of Vancouver and my grandmother on my mother's side is still there. I have some cousins and one aunt out there. So I do get out there at least once a year.

Q. What do you remember about playing the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final, and probably not great memories, you had a heck of a team, and so did they; they had Tikkanen, Steve Smith, just want to know what your memories of that are?

CAM NEELY: Well, in '88, I think a lot of us in Boston, it was our first time ever in the Stanley Cup Finals. And I know that a lot of us, we were so excited to be in the Finals, we kind of probably lost a little bit focus, of, okay, there's four more games to win. Plus, quite honestly, Edmonton was a much better hockey club in '88 than we were.

But moving in '90, I thought that we had a good opportunity to beat the Oilers. We had that triple-overtime game that everybody remembers. Wesley had an opportunity, unfortunately shot it over the net. And then (Petr) Klima comes out and scores and kind of took the wind out of our sails.

Opening up in Boston the first two games, you really feel like you've got to jump on them, because going back to Edmonton, the way they played and the style that they have and the guys that can skate the way they did, we knew it was going to be a little tougher battle going into Edmonton.

But you're right, it was difficult. Certainly, Steve and I, every time I hopped over the board, so did he, and constant battles in front of the net in the corners. With Craig (Janney), really that year, we had basically the one offensive line, and if we got shot down during the even strength, we really had to contribute on the power play, because they were really were all over us. And they had a great game plan in shutting down Craig and myself. You know, obviously everybody knows the type of players the Oilers had in those years, and it was just -- you know, it was a battle for us to get through those guys.

Q. You scored 50 goals I think in 49 games one year, if I'm not mistaken; in this day and age, is that still very tough to do? It seems like the NHL is a little more wide open, but do you see somebody going 50 in 50?

CAM NEELY: Well, I think right now, you're seeing guys, a few guys on a goal-a-game pace right now. Staying on that course for a year we all know is difficult, but with the way the game is being played, the amount of penalties that are being called, the amount of power play opportunities the teams are havi ng, the way guys can kind of park in front of the net a little bit more freely than in the past, I think -- I don't see why you're not going to see a handful of guys getting 50 this year. 50 in 50 is a different story, but I wouldn't be surprised, let's put it that way.

Q. Most pro athletes when they are asked during their playing days when they are in the locker room after a game with all of the microphones thrust in front of their face about individual accomplishments say that the time to look back is when their career is over. Now that your career is over and you've had a chance to look back, sum up what you can about your career, the highlights, the moments that you like the most.

CAM NEELY: Well, it's bittersweet going to the Finals twice but losing. Just that journey that you take in the playoffs with your team and your teammates, round after round, you know, you're battling, it's such a great journey to be on. Ultimately winning the final game is the perfect ending to that journey, but just going through that, playing every other night, playing hard and playing hurt, it's just what hockey is all about.

Beating the Canadiens in '88, it was a huge deal for Boston and the organization. It was some upwards of 45 years that the Bruins had not beat the Canadiens in the playoffs, so that was a really, really big deal in Boston for us to do that, and there's some fond memories from that series.

Individually, you know, the first time I got 50, the way I played the game, certainly never expected to be a 50-goal scorer. But that first time I got 50 was special. And to back it up again was special, because to do it once was one thing, but to be able to did it again, I felt that it was just as special the second time around.

Q. Who is the most influential person in your hockey life?

CAM NEELY: That's a tough question. You know, as I'm approaching this day on Monday, you really sit back and think about all of the people that have been very influential in my life, whether it's on the ice or off the ice, and there's a number of people that help guide you through your life. On the ice and in my hockey career, I go back to certain situations where someone asked me earlier, what if. If I start thinking back, I mean, I look at junior hockey. I was a centerman going into junior hockey and the coach put me to right wing, and that changed -- that changed everything for me.

Then moving to the pros, coming to Boston and getting the opportunity to play, but playing in a role that was offered to contribute offensively, not just physically. And then also being told by Mike Milbury, for example, who would say: Listen, Cam, I want you to think about what you're doing as far as getting yourself put into the penalt y box. If you're going to fight, I want to make sure it's on your terms, not just fighting because someone is challenging you all the time.

A guy like Terry O'Reilly, who when I started drifting away a little bit from playing physical would always remind me and bring me back in to say, hey, this is what helps the team, the way you play.

So just there's little -- it's hard to focus on one particular person because throughout the course of my career, there's been a lot of people that have helped guide me along the way.

Q. You played with two great pa ssing centers, Craig Janney and Adam Oates, could you talk about the on-ice relationship, why that chemistry worked so well, and if there was differences between them and what adjustments you had to make when you had to switch. Also, it would seem to me like playing with Adam Oates and talking hockey with Adam Oates would be like getting your masters in hockey; take it away.

CAM NEELY: You're right, having centermen like that, any winger that can shoot the puck would be thrilled to play with both Adam or Craig.

Playing with Craig, first off, I mean, this guy really had such great hands. We rarely talked on the ice. We just kind of knew where each other was going to be. I kind of told him where I would like to hang out, and I knew where he -- once we got into the offensive zone, I knew where he like to was try to set up. Generally speaking, it was me getting into the corners, trying to dig out the puck if possible and then make my way to somewhere between the hash marks and top of the circle, just trying to get open, and he would always lay the puck in a situation where I could get rid of it quickly.

Similar to Adam, obviously Adam coming to Boston and the success that he had with Brett Hull, being a right-handed center, I was a little bit concerned. But obviously the success that he had with Brett, I won't put myself in the category of Brett as far as shooting the puck. But Adam was by far one of the best backhand passers I've ever seen play the game, and just the way he can lay it flat for you off the backhand was pretty amazing. And he was not shy about going into the corner. I mean, he wasn't a big guy, but he played -- he played bigger than he is. And he was not shy about getting into the corners and digging the puck loose, either. That was probably a little different between Adam and Craig; whereas Adam, I find myself in the corners with Adam a little bit more.

Q. You talked a little bit about this before, the style of play and what we're seeing this season in terms of the increased scoring and all, what are your thoughts on that? And do you see -- some people have said that maybe there's a physicality that's missing because defensemen are a little bit afraid; that they are going to get interference penalty if they try to move a guy from in front of the net. What have you been seeing?

CAM NEELY: I'm probably in the majority of what people are feeling; that contact is kind of out of the game a little bit more this year. I think they have got to find a happy medium.

There's no question we all like the flow of the game, we all like the fact that there's a lot more flow through the neutral zone into the offensive zone. But hockey does need contact. And you're right, I think there's guys that really are unsure of what's goin g to be called for a penalty.

I think the hooking and the holding and the clutching and the grabbing is the main thing that they had to get rid of. Body contact is a different story. You have to have guys be able to bang the body out there. I think people want to see that, and that's based on conversations that I'm having with the hockey fan out this way; that you can't have both. It's just a matter of trying to figure out how to do that, and I think the league is going to understand, that's what people want to watch is not just some great goal-scoring, but also some contact in the game.

Q. Just a slightly different topic, I'm curious was to what you're seeing, how many games you might have go ne to in Boston and what you see in terms of fans' reaction? The attendance numbers for the first month were terrific, but going through a lot of rinks around the league sometimes you see clusters of empty seats in the lower bowl there, the corporate seats sometimes. I'm curious as to what your experiences have been.

CAM NEELY: Well, it's early in the season. Obviously the hard core hockey fan is extremely excited that the game is back and I think that shows across the league. I think there's obviously a lot going on right now, aside from hockey. I think once you get deeper into the winter, that more and more fans will be going to the games. Boston right now so far has been -- has been a pleasant surprise to see the amount of people that are going to the games. But the league has recognized, and the players and the owners have recognized, that they have to reach out to the fan based on what happened last year.

Q. Where or how would you see yourself the way you've played fitting into the way the game is called today?

CAM NEELY: Well, on one hand, I feel like I might be able to score more because I could stand in front of the net without being bothered. On the other hand, I might not have those opportunities because I would be in the penalty box more.

Q. Just want to get your feelings on what this honor means to you.

CAM NEELY: Really, I'm just so proud of the fact that I was recognized for the way I played the game and kind of the impact that maybe I had for the style that I played. I know that a lot of people really look at numbers and don't -- might not look at really much else. Numbers to me were never really an important factor of how I can help our team win. So to me to have the recognition of the way I played and maybe have people kind of appreciate the fact of the way I played was a huge honor for me.

Obviously if I was healthier and played longer, you know, you hear stories about, well, the numbers could be this or it could be that. My thing is, when I played, I feel like I made an impact, and I'm very honored that they appreciated the impact that I made for the time that I did play.

Q. In a lot of your comments today, you talked a lot about your legacy and how you're very happy that people have understood the way that you played the game and appreciated it. I was wondering, was it very difficult for to you change your game? You spoke about when Mike Milbury told you not to sp end so much time in the box because you could score 50 goals. Was it hard to take away that aspect of the game because that was how you had to find yourself so early in your career in Boston and really endear yourself to the fans there that way?

CAM NEELY: Well, what it was was really more of Mike trying to get me to understand of who I'm going in the box with. He goes: I don't want to take away the fact that if you get upset and your first reaction is to drop your gloves and get in that altercation. I don't want to take away from now you're going to think about not doing it. He said, I also want you to think about how that may affect their team and our team if you're going off the ice and who you're going off the ice with.

So it really got me thinking a little bit more about my role, not just looking at, okay, I'm in a situation, someone has challenged me, I'm going to answer that challenge every time. And there's n o question, I did have to -- I had mental battles with that of, you know, when is it appropriate. But I really just let my instincts -- after awhile, I just said, you know what my instincts, I'll just go with my instincts and feel what's right at the moment. And I can guarantee you, not every time was the right time.

Q. Is that just a product of maturity?

CAM NEELY: Yeah, no question. It really is. It's probably the best way to put it.

Q. I've seen you in a music video, I've seen you in some movies and most recently on "Rescue Me" with Dennis Leary. How did you get into acting, and is it something that you would like to continue, maybe in some bigger roles in the future?

CAM NEELY: Well, I'll tell you right now, I'm not pounding on doors looking for acting work. Everything that I've been in, I've been asked to be in. I haven't gone out looking to get those specific roles. So I enjoy doing it, I have a lot of fun doing it, but I do not need to be another out-of-work actor.

DAVID KEON: Thank you very much, Cam, for your time today. Congratulations on your induction.
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