A Carroll Gardens hockey player has a very recognizable name for those into puck drops and slapshots — one that could doom him or help him skate to a great career on the ice.
At first, Cam Neely — who shares the same name with the Boston Bruins great — didn’t understand the jokes. Why were his youth hockey coaches telling him, at age 7, that he was a Hall-of-Famer when he just picked up a pair of skates and a stick? Why were they continually asking him what he was doing playing in Prospect Park when he was a world famous NHL star?
His parents suggested he surf the Internet: a few key strokes later, he quickly figured out what they were talking about – he shared a name with the Cam Neely, the Bruins’ current team president.
“It was funny,” the Xavier junior recalled. “I was excited. It was pretty interesting.”
It was completely coincidental, too: Neely is the first member of his family to play hockey – but he has taken to it. He watched tapes of the Bruins Hall-of-Fame center and has become a Neely clone for Xavier — a scoring machine on the ice and leader off of it.
He’s scored six goals and added four assists in the Knights last four matches – three wins and a tie – and has 17 goals and 14 assists on the year. Xavier coach Al Dimauro said the biggest difference in Neely is his improved skating and strength, which comes from training sessions during the spring and summer.
“He’s skating through hits, he’s taking the puck and moving with power and force,” Dimauro said of Neely, who plays travel hockey with the North Jersey Avalanche. “Guys are hitting him and he’s going through the hits. He’s stronger on his skates this year. It makes him a stronger player.”
With Neely finding his groove, the Knights have risen to within two points of the Catholic High School Hockey League’s Class B leader Holy Cross, tied with St. Francis Prep and St. Peter’s for second place.
“I think we can win the championship,” the 16-year-old standout said. “We’re getting hot at the right time. Our goal is playing really well, we haven’t been making many mistakes, just playing solid hockey.”
Just as important, Neely has matured as a person, which is significant considering how young his team is: its made up of nine sophomores and five freshmen and Neely, though just a junior, has emerged as somewhat of an elder statesman. When the team got off to a slow start in league play, dropping three of its four matches, he made sure nobody lost confidence. And now, with the playoffs in sight, he’s leading the confident Knights.
Like a leader, Neely refused to acknowledge his role solely for his team’s hot play. When asked about his goal-scoring frenzy, he talked about his teammates’ ability to dig pucks out of the corner and Xavier’s improved chemistry.
“He’s coming out of boyhood into young manhood,” Dimauro said. “He’s growing up.”
That selfless attitude was one quality teammates always cited about the NHL Neely. Xavier’s Neely hears about his double often, more from coaches than teammates, who aren’t familiar with the NHL’s past stars.
He loves to hear the jokes now.
“It gets me more attention and gets me noticed,” he said. “I’ve watched film of him. I like how he plays.”
Reach reporter Colin MIxson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-4514.