Canadian hockey player
Cam Neely, although forced into an early retirement by leg injuries, is widely recognized for the innovations
he brought to the role of hockey forward. Neely was the prototypical "power forward," a class which also includes such players as the Detroit Red Wings' Brendan Shanahan and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Kevin Stevens. Power forwards are defined by their size and power, which give them an uncommon ability to drive through defensemen and get to the net. However, for many people Neely is most respected for aspects other than his skating: for his perseverance in the face of injuries and personal problems and for his work with cancer patients and their families.
"What Really Counts"
Neely started his National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Vancouver Canucks, his hometown team: Neely's family lived in nearby Maple Ridge, British Columbia. He was drafted in 1982 at age seventeen and started appearing in the Canucks lineup the very next season. Then, when he was twenty-one, Vancouver traded him to the Boston Bruins.
Only months after Neely was traded to Boston, both of his parents were diagnosed with cancer. "[The Canucks] weren't using me very much, so my career wasn't going anywhere, but my personal life was wonderful. Everyone could come to games all the time, and everyone was healthy," Neely told Sports Illustrated reporter Leigh Montville. "I go 3,000 miles across the country, and my career takes off, but my personal life falls apart. It teaches you an awful lot about your priorities, about what really counts."
Neely was a good, crowd-pleasing player in Boston for several seasons. He set no records, but was an all-star in 1988, 1990, and 1991. Then, in a playoff game on May 11, 1991, Neely suffered a major injury to his left leg. Neely collided with Pittsburgh Penguins player Ulf Samuelsson, and Samuelsson's knee drove into Neely's thigh with such force that it caused a rare condition called myositis ossificans. The myositis ossificans caused the injured muscle to turn to bone; as a result, Neely now carries around a brick-sized chunk of bone in his left thigh muscle. He also suffers from knee problems that doctors think were caused in part by the same collision.
Neely sat out much of the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons dealing with his injuries. He admits that not being able to play drove him crazy at the time, but since he spent much of this period watching and studying games, he learned a great deal, particularly from studying the efficiency with which famed Boston defenseman Ray Borque did his job. Earlier in his career Neely had been famous for his dashing all over the ice, which was effective—in two of his seasons with the Bruins before his injury, Neely had reached the fifty goal mark—but not very efficient.
Armed with this new "work smarter, not harder" philosophy, Neely returned to the Bruins lineup at the end of the 1992-93 season and almost immediately established himself as a star. He scored his first goal less than five minutes into his first game back in early March of 1993, and by the end of the season, despite only playing in thirteen games, he had racked up twenty-two goals. In the 1992-93 season, Neely scored fifty goals in his first forty-four games, putting himself in an exalted category with Mario Lemieux , who also reached fifty goals in forty-four games, and Wayne Gretzky , who did it in thirty-nine.
|1965||Born June 6 in Comox, British Columbia|
|1982||Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks|
|1986||Traded to the Boston Bruins|
|1987||Mother, Marlene, dies of cancer|
|1991||Suffers left leg injury during playoffs, on May 11|
|1994||Father, Michael, dies of cancer|
|1996||Retires from hockey September 5|
|1997||Neely House opens|
|1998||Attempts comeback, but retires again November 17|
Neely's 1992-93 season also ended in injury, when he tore a ligament in his knee. He came back and had two more solid seasons, but then arthritis in his right hip forced him to retire in 1996. He acknowledged to himself that it was over when he pulled up lame after an impromptu foot race with a ten-year-old relative: "I kind of realized that if I can't run to the corner, I probably can't play professional hockey," Neely was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News. He briefly attempted a comeback in 1998, after rest and intensive rehabilitation had improved his knee and hip, but after only three practices the pain proved too great and he retired for good.
"If I Can't Play Again, So What?"
Neely's mother died of her cancer in 1987, shortly after Neely was traded to Boston, and his father succumbed to his late in 1993. Those experiences gave Neely perspective as he struggled with injuries towards the end in his career. "If I couldn't play hockey again, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world," Neely told David Rattigan of Sporting News during the 1994-95 season. "It would be disappointing, but it wouldn't even come close to what happened with my parents.… [I]f I can't play again, so what? I can still do something else."
After his retirement, Neely, maintaining that attitude, turned his attention to helping other families that were struggling with cancer. Working with his brother Scott Neely, who also lives in Boston, Neely founded the Cam Neely Foundation, and in August of 1997 the Neely House opened its doors. Its sixteen apartments (up from eight when it first opened) are a low-cost, supportive place for cancer patients and their families to stay while undergoing treatment at the New England Medical Center in Boston.
Neely has appeared in five movies—Monument Ave. ; Dumb and Dumber ; Mighty Ducks II ; Me, Myself and Irene ; and What's the Worst that Could Happen? —and written a book, Hockey for Everybody: Cam Neely's Guide to the Red-Hot Game on Ice, since retiring from hockey. Written for new fans, the book attempts to explain the fundamentals of hockey to people who enjoy watching the game but don't necessarily understand all of the intricacies of play.
"[Neely] puts his heart and soul into everything he does," fellow Bruins player and friend Don Sweeney told Boston Herald reporter Joe Gordon shortly after Neely abandoned his 1998 comeback attempt. "Whether it be off the ice with the Neely Foundation or on the ice with what he accomplished or the injury situation with what he fought against.… He's a testament in his character to what people should strive to be about."
|BB: Boston Bruins; VC: Vancouver Canucks.|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY NEELY:
(With Brian Tarcy) Hockey for Everybody: Cam Neely's Guide to the Red-Hot Game on Ice, Chandler House Press, 1998.
"Farewell, Cam." Sports Illustrated (September 16, 1996): 20.
Felger, Michael. "No More Tears: Neely Says 'Bye without Regrets." Boston Herald (November 18, 1998): 110.
Frei, Terry. "Fate Unfriendly to Cam Neely." Denver Post (May 5, 1996): C-05.
Gordon, Joe. "One Last Cam-eo for Neely: Failed Comeback Bid Marks True End of Inspiring Career." Boston Herald (November 22, 1998): B22.
Harris, Stephen. "Sorry, it's No Cam Do: Neely Abandons His Comeback Attempt." Boston Herald (November 17, 1998): 92.
"Injuries Force Bruins' Neely to Retire." Houston Chronicle (September 6, 1996): 2.
Montville, Leigh. "Day-to-Day for Life." Sports Illustrated (January 31, 1994): 56-59.
"Neely's Hockey Career Ends in Sad Farewell." Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY) (September 6, 1996): C2.
"Neely Writes with New Fans in Mind." Seattle Times (October 18, 1998): C3.
"Pain Proves Too Much as Neely Ends Comeback Bid." Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY) (November 17, 1998): D4.
Rattigan, David. "Cam a Lot." Sporting News (March 13, 1995): 51-52.
Scher, Jon. "Cam Neely." Sports Illustrated (March 8, 1993): 44.
"1986-87: The Cam Neely Trade." Canucks Almanac. http://www.canucksalmanac.hispeed.com/tradehistory/camneely_trade.htm (November 7, 2002).
Buccigross, John. "Why Cam Neely Should Be in the Hall of Fame." ESPN.com. http://msn.espn.go.com/nhl/columns/buccigross_john/1455825.html (November 7, 2002).
"Cam Neely." Hockey Sandwich. http://www.hockeysandwich.com/neely.html (November 7, 2002).
Cam Neely Foundation. http://www.camneelyfoundation.com (November 15, 2002).
Sketch by Julia Bauder
Awards and Accomplishments
|1988||Named National Hockey League Second-Team All-Star|
|1990||Named National Hockey League Second-Team All-Star|
|1991||Named National Hockey League Second-Team All-Star|
|1994||Named National Hockey League Second-Team All-Star|
|1994||Wins Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance|