LAS VEGAS - Retired Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Jeff Neal has watched every Vegas Golden Knights game this season, like countless others hopelessly devoted to the team during its inaugural season.
But Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final between Vegas and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday took the 89-year-old former fighter pilot's love of his team to new heights. Not only was it the first Golden Knights game he had seen live, it was the first NHL game he had ever attended.
"It's fantastic," Neal said, sitting high in a corner of T-Mobile Arena with his daughter, Heidi, and grandson, Connor, Heidi's son. "The whole thing is very exciting, everybody seems hyped up. I love the atmosphere."
Heidi wanted to do something special for Father's Day with her dad turning 90 in a few months. So she did that, and then some, by buying three tickets for Game 2.
"I was very surprised," Neal said. "This is tremendous."
Heidi and Connor, 24, flew in for the game from Southern California a day apart. She sat between her father and son, in a bit of a demilitarized zone since Connor is a huge fan of the Anaheim Ducks.
Neal, an Ohio native, was in the Air Force for 22 years. His career as a fighter pilot began in 1951, near the end of the Korean War. He flew four missions in the Far East, then would fly in the Vietnam War and in Europe for more than another decade. He finished his flying career as a Major and was ranked as a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserve, retiring and moving to Las Vegas in 1973.
Neal has never played a game of hockey in his life, and says he has not worn skates since college. He and his wife of nearly 70 years, Deedee, have been in the same Las Vegas house since 1977.
From beneath his Golden Knights baseball cap, Neal said his favorite player is goalie Marc-André Fleury.
"I'm no relation to (Golden Knights forward) James Neal," he said with a grin, "but I couldn't say him for obvious reasons. Everybody I know is excited about the Golden Knights. I'm going to come to as many games as I can get a ticket for."
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