Cam Neely Starring For Xavier

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Cam Neely starring for Xavier

Cam Neely didn’t understand the jokes. Why were his youth hockey coaches telling him, then a 7-year-old just getting started, he was a Hall-of-Famer when he just picked up a pair of skates and a stick, asking him what he was doing in Prospect Park when he was a world famous NHL star?

That night, his parents suggested he surf the Internet. He quickly figured out what they were talking about – he shared a name with the Boston Bruins great and current team president.

“It was funny,” the Xavier junior recalled. “I was excited. It was pretty interesting.”

It was completely coincidental – Neely was the first member of his family to play the sport – but he has taken to it. He watched tapes of the Hall-of-Fame center and has emerged as a Neely clone for Xavier, a physical 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 pick and moving with power and force,” the coach 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 CHSHL 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 from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn 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, significant considering Xavier’s youth. The team is made 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 in the NHL Neely. Xavier’s Neely hears about the name 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.”

Zach Braziller

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