BOSTON, MA — Nicholas Soughley grew up in Winchester, Mass. around the corner from Bruins alumnus and current team President Cam Neely.
As a child, Soughley said he and his friends would run up to Neely’s door, ring the bell, and scamper off, a practice more commonly known as “Ding-Dong-Ditch.”
But on Friday, Soughley — who served six years in the United States Air Force — had no reason to run away from Neely. In fact, it was Neely welcoming Soughley through his doors with open arms.
The Boston Bruins welcomed Wounded Warrior Project Alumni to spend an afternoon with Neely as part of the team’s recognition of Veteran’s Day.
"We used to play ding-dong-ditch on his house," Soughley said. "So it was kind of a surreal moment for me to go and shake his hand after years of probably tormenting him.
"When he used to come to the door we would run off into the woods."
According to Soughley, though, he and Neely were able to laugh about it.
"He got a kick out of it," Soughley said. "He said, 'It was you out there ringing the door bell the whole time.'"
As Soughley and the other members of the Project made their way through TD Garden, they found a room set up for a buffet lunch. Gift bags were waiting for each of the Alumni, as well as a personalized B’s jersey.
And of course, Sharpies were passed around as Neely signed any and all memorabilia, including a ticket stub from a game in Vancouver during the 2011 Stanley Cup.
"He’s pretty big now," said a chuckling Neely of Soughley when asked about ding-dong-ditch. "It was kind of a funny story.
"But these are real people who have issues just like we all do," continued Neely, with a serious tone. "They have more serious issues.”
"But to come in an environment and try to get themselves in a place they’re comfortable with, and fortunately they have friends and family, but for the Bruins to be able to have them here, and...give them something they haven’t been able to experience before, is pretty special."
In the Wounded Warrior Alumni, Neely said he found a group of men he greatly admires, and cherished the opportunity to spend the afternoon with the former servicemen.
Conversely, in the Garden, the men from the Wounded Warriors Project found familiar ground.
"I’ve been a Bruins fan my whole life," said Sven Mozdiez, who spent six years as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. "There’s something about the Bruins that you can really get behind.
"They always pull together, they stick up for each other, there’s definitely a similarity with the Bruins and the military.
"Everyone backs each other, as well as pull together and win; that’s basically what you do [in the military]."
But still, whether it was the familiarity of the Bruins philosophy, or simply getting a chance to walk around the building with a Bruins Hockey Hall of Famer, it was clear this was an experience the Wounded Warriors Alumni would never forget.
"My first reaction, I kind of freaked out, I ain’t gonna lie," said Ryan Casavant, who served two tours in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps, of when he learned he was going to get to meet Neely.
"Like I just said — I was talking to Cam Neely — besides my wedding last month, this is pretty much the highlight of my lifetime; a dream come here."
Beyond today's dream fulfillment, for the Wounded Warriors Project the objective is to re-assimilate veterans back into society.
"They help us adapt more to civilian life after you leave the military, since the military is very structured and everyone sort of does what you tell them to do," Mozdiez said. "The civilian life doesn’t always go that way.
"The Wounded Warrior Project helps us find different outlets to just sort of help [us] adapt, as well as get your story out there, and help other people -- not only the veterans -- realize that we’re not damaged goods in any way.
"We’re real people, we just answered the call of the government, and now we’re back, and here we are."