Tonight in Boston, in the sterile, architecturally banal house built by a bank, the walls will shake. They will shake like the Garden shook when No. 8 plastered Petr Svoboda in front of the players' bench with a two-handed turbo shove to the torso that sent the then-Montreal Canadiens defenseman into the boards, echoing like a Tony Conigliaro home run over the Green Monster years before.
Some athletes are cheered, some respected, and some adored. The adored athlete helps define a sports fan's life, a definite chapter in an existence. Cam Neely arrived in Boston in the summer of 1986 when Boston sports was at its peak. The Celtics had arguably the greatest Celtics team of all time. The Patriots began the year playing in the Super Bowl and would win their division that fall. The Red Sox were a summer of love with Clemens, Boggs, Seaver, Rice and the wildly entertaining reality show of Oil Can Boyd. And the Bruins were reloading after a 16-year run of excellence. After Neely arrived, the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup final twice in the following four years. Between Bird on the parquet and Neely on the ice, the Garden was rocking almost nightly.
Today, the outdoor Boston sports teams are still championship caliber, but the indoor ones have sagged into mediocrity in their soulless ATM machine. But tonight, there will be some rare weekday noise for an old-school friend.
When Neely arrived in Boston, it was pre-luxury suite sports nirvana. No Jumbotrons, no cell phones, no perks. Just hockey fans. Working men and working big-haired women sweating and stinking and cheering their hearts out for young men who didn't make all that much more money than they did. You didn't need a scoreboard to tell them when to scream. It was the perfect time and the perfect place for No. 8. The one bittersweet aspect about tonight's ceremony is that it won't take place in the Garden. It's like Ted Williams hitting his final home run in Tropicana Field. Why couldn't they have built a replica Boston Garden with modern amenities?
(I'm getting angry now. Relax. Hum the 1986 Grammy winner for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, "That's what Friends are for." Vomit. Continue.)
We have written in this space before why we feel No. 8 belongs in the Hall. The rafters in Boston were never a question. So, what follows is how I would handle Cam's introduction tonight if my good friend Jeremy Jacobs asked me to emcee festivities:
Welcome to Cam Neely Night, yo! Before we introduce The Man, I want this side of the rink to say CAM!! And I want this side of the rink to say NEELY!! And I want it LOOOOOOOOOOOUD!!!! And let's do it eight times! GO! CAM!! NEELY!! CAM !! NEELY!! CAM!! NEELY!! CAM!! NEELY!! CAM!! NEELY!! CAM!! NEELY!! CAM!! NEELY!! CAM NEELY!! All right!!
We are here tonight to honor a man. A man with class. Class in terms of fighting players his own size, not resorting to cheap hits, and hitting with purpose. Courage and love of the game as he battled serious injuries. Perseverance in dealing with the death of both his parents. No. 8 didn't dive, take cheap shots or flop. No. 8 was the kind of player who could have played in any era. Mothers and fathers named sons after him. He was the Terry O'Reilly of a new generation of Bruins fans. No. 8 gave his heart, soul, hip, quad and knee to the Bruins, until every bit of hockey life was sucked out of him. When you look up there and see No. 8 think of that.
No. 8 is how we want our sons and daughters to play -- with fire and within the rules, to be a beast on the ice and likable off it. To pummel Scot Kleinendorst on the ice!! (Pause as the crowd goes crazy. Fix hair.) And open the Cam Neely House for families of cancer patients off the ice. In so many ways, No. 8 is the model. So much time is debated on how can we improve the NHL. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE NHL? Have everyone play with heart, fire and passion. That would improve the game REAL fast. When you look up there at No. 8, think of that.
Some players were great and not really remembered. And some players are remembered, but not really great. For a generation of Bruins fans and players, whether NHL or South Shore Pee Wee, No. 8 was the blueprint -- tough, courageous, persistent, talented and popular. A blue-collar star. The people's champ!!
In closing, I ask the esteemed Hall of Fame selection committee to reconsider the career and case of Cam Neely. As a Bruin alone, his numbers are staggering -- 524 games, 344 goals, 246 assists, 590 points and a plus-140. Look at the latest wave of inductees and say to yourself, "Would an NHL GM trade Neely in his prime for him in his prime?" Would they??!! (Crowd screams "NO!!!") DAMN RIGHT! The inclusion of Neely into the house of the brave and gifted would make the Hall of Fame a model home. A house that never turns its back on a family member who always did what the great game asked.
But that is another day. Tonight, he is ours. This home improvement comes in the form of a banner with a great hockey name. And a great hockey player. Some know him as Sea Bass. But we know him as No. 8. Cameron ... Michael ... Neely.
Nothing has received as much a combination of universal approval and curiosity than the "Life of Podes" segment. Shjon Podein is a unique character, who has taken his act to Sweden this winter to continue his professional hockey career. We caught up with Shjon this week to get the lowdown on livin' the dream in Sweden.
No. 1: Why Sweden?
Podein: I chose Sweden for a couple of reasons. I always thought playing in Europe would be fun at the end of my career. When I played with the Colorado Avalanche, Peter Forsberg and I talked about playing in Sweden a few times. I had some offers from a few teams in Europe, but after talking with the GM in Vaxjo, it made the choice easy. He said I would have plenty of time with my family, short road trips, and almost no overnight trips, and a chance to play a lot. So far it has been an excellent journey.
No. 2: Would you consider returning to the NHL?
Podein: I haven't thought about coming back and playing in the NHL again, but if someone called my agent, I'm sure I would listen.
No. 3: What's the strangest food you've eaten in Sweden?
Podein: The strangest food so far would have to be some sort of a meat product you squeeze out of a tube. Surprisingly TASTY!!
No. 4: What rules that you've been playing under in Europe would help the NHL?
Podein: I'm not sure what rules would help the NHL. It's different with two-line passing and no fighting, but I'm not sure it would help the NHL back home.
No. 5: Have you met Hakan Loob yet?
Podein: I have not had the honor of meeting Mr. Loob yet. But with the restraining order in affect, I'm not allowed within a thousand feet of him for a quite a few years.
No. 6: What has been your best Swedish experience?
Podein: My best Swedish experience by far has been making a snowman for my daughter and naming it after my teammate Oman. OMAN THE SNOWMAN.
No. 7: What is the best Swedish beer?
Podein: The best Swedish beer by far is Falcon Beer.
No. 8: Any parting words?
Podein: If anyone is still reading this interview, I appreciate it and have a few parting words: I hope the holidays were awesome and the New Year's the same. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you care about you love him or her. Love makes the world go 'round and makes this life better. Until next time, have fun, enjoy life. See ya.
Podes e-mail update
Some Podes news after the holidays! Växjö have played two games in the Allsvenskan Södra Vår league, where teams 5-12 from the fall league play. It's a bit confusing, but don't worry, Podes is doing fine. In the first game, a 6-1 win over Rögle, he scored a goal and had two assists. Then in the second game, a 4-0 win over Troja/Ljungby, he scored again! That gives him a team leading four points (2-2-4) and he has four penalty minutes, five shots on goal and is plus-4. For all the Kent Manderville fans out there: on Sunday, he scored the only goal in Timrå's victory over Malmö.
Life of Podes
Here are 10 fond memories I've had while playing pro hockey in Sweden, in no particular order:
1. A remote-controlled car bringing the game puck out to center ice for the opening faceoff.
2. Getting knocked on my butt and having the whole crowd cheer (all 892 of them).
3. Coming out for the start of the game to find the national anthem half over.
4. Taking two hours on my first trip to the grocery store to get a total of eight items.
5. Having an outdoor bandy rink one block away.
6. Playing 34 minutes. (No, not in the season, but one game!)
7. Did you know Swedish massages are called massages over here? And Swedish meatballs are called
just meatballs? (Is this country wacky or what?!)
8. I don't know if it's the language or what, but my daughter Anna calls me and Little Buddy (my dog) the same name, Da.
9. After good games we go back on the ice and do the wave with the crowd. After really good games, we go back twice and do a dance.
10. A car with my name and number on it. That's right, there's a new mayor of Dorkville, and his name is Shjon.
The Hakan-Hannukah Song
When I think Scandinavian, the qualities that come to mind are smart, friendly, good looking, athletic and clean. Where do I sign up? As promised in last week's column, here is my first and maybe only annual "Hakan-Hannukah Song." For the 34 of you who haven't heard Adam Sandler's classic first "Hannukah Song," it is imperative you listen to it first to ingrain the melody in your mind. The better you know that song, the more you'll enjoy my "Hakan-Hannukah Song." As Adam Sandler does, sometimes you have to speed up the lyric and sometimes you have to slow it down to make it all work. Feel free to sing along as you read:
Put on some ABBA-kah
Here comes Hakan-Hannukah!
So much Swedish-funukah,
To celebrate Hakan-Hannukah!
Hakan-Hannukah is the festival of ice
Instead of one day of hockey, we have 180 crazy nights
When you feel like the only kid in town
Without a Synergy,
Here's a list of people who are Swedish, just like Mats Sundin
Adam and Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden
Michael Nylander of the Capitals was born in Stockholm, Sweden
Guess who eats crayfish at a bistro in Malmo
Thomas Steen, Thomas Gradin and Oiler Tommy Salo
Toronto's Tie Domi, knocked Ulf Samuelson on his fanny
Tiger Woods is marrying Jesper Parnevik's ex-nanny
You don't need rock and roll or to listen to Menudo
'Cause you can sing a song with Niklas Havelid's new son Hudo
Put on your ABBA-kah
It's time for Hakan-Hannukah
The captain of the Vancouver Canuck-anukahs
Saku Koivu, not a Swede
But guess who is? Hakan's older brother Pete (He scored one goal in 9 NHL games)
Sweden's Peter Forsberg and his fiance like to go dancin'
So do Roger, Mathias, Calle, Bjorn and Andreas Johansson
Ken Klee's not from Sweden, nor Dainius Zubrus
But Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, and Hakan Loob is
So many Swedes are in the NHL,
Shjon Podein isn't Swedish
But he'll raise some Karlstad hell!
Tell your friend Per-onica
It's time for Hakan-Hannukah
I hope for new Graf-onikahs
On this lovely Hakan-Hannukah
So drink your cold Fal-connika
And golf 18 with Annika
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy, Hakan-Hannukah!
I'm playing my first year of high school hockey, where we have the touch-up offside rule, and it is amazing how much more flow there is. If the puck squirts out to center, the D can just throw it back in, and we forwards just have to skate a little before starting a new forecheck.
Can I get a pit bull, name it Neely and introduce it to Claude Lemieux, Bo "The Sports Diva's" cat from a previous mailbag? I'm sure it would be great relationship.
And some day the pit bull's collar will be raised to the rafters of a Lowell, Mass., kennel.
I brought up an interesting question in an Internet message board (no, wait, that sounds too dorky, make that a bar): If Peter Forsberg was never to play another NHL game, would you put him in the Hall of Fame?
That is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. If Peter Forsberg packed it all in tomorrow and headed back to Ornskoldsvik to open a Jiffy Lube with Hakan Loob, he'd be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. "Get a Lube With Loob."
I never thought I'd do this but here goes: My wife and I are due in June with our second child, to go along with our lovely daughter, Isabel, and we need name help. We will not find out the sex beforehand, but if it's a girl, we are pretty set on Sophie or Sophia. It's a boy's name we're struggling with. My wife is suddenly enamored with Ezekial, or Zeke for short. We also like Joseph, Harrison and a few others I can't think of right now.
Zeke Passaro? Don't like it. Sophie or Sophia Passaro are winners. I'd go with Sophia. As far as a boy? Orlando Michael Passaro.
I coach a high school hockey team in Boston. We should be good, but we lack that certain something, that "I will skate through a brick wall to win this game" type of thing Markus Naslund has. Other than waiting for the movie "Miracle" to come out Feb. 6, what would you suggest to fire them up? I know that if you don't have the heart, well then you just don't have it. But I refuse to scream at high school students and I don't want to give up on them.
My son's play turned around 180 degrees when I started to focus on one thing: playing with abundant, unconditional confidence. The last thing I say before every game is, "Play with confidence." When you are confident you are resourceful and sturdy and filled with joy. What is more important to a hockey player than that? You are right, you can't teach heart. But you CAN teach confidence, and thus you can teach them to be stronger on their skates, never to give up, and have passion. I believe heart is overused. All players who are said to have heart have confidence first.
Your awareness of the magic of backyard rinks is well documented. I just wanted to share a brief tale of how one played a role in the U.S. junior team's gold medal win. Growing up in Detroit in the 70s, we lived on a corner lot with no garage -- a perfect setting for a backyard rink. Dad would put down the plastic and pack down the snow with a little help from the Kesler boys who lived up the street. One year we hosted an ice skating party for family and friends. It was there that my cousin Linda met her future husband Mike Kesler. Years later their youngest son Ryan would score the game-tying goal in the World Junior Championship title game ... fitting for someone that started out as a twinkle in the eye of a couple skating around a backyard rink.
Ray Ferraro mentioned the other night the possibility that Michael Handzus could be moved for a goaltender such as Curtis Joseph, but that would only create another Detroit Red Wings situation.
The Red Wings now say they will probably NOT trade Joseph. They just can't count on Dominik Hasek being healthy and focused. Atlanta could have had Cujo for Byron Dafoe, why they didn't take that deal is shocking. Maybe they are not allowed to add payroll. As far as the Flyers go, they could win the East with the goalies they have, but it is a long shot.
Why are the Olympics more exciting than the NHL? The same reason why college hockey is more exciting than the NHL; NHL games are not intense enough. What can we do about this? ZERO points for a tie, period. I'd go farther and say no OT at all. When do teams get boring? When they protect something. What do teams protect? Well, when it's tied up in the third period, they're protecting the guaranteed point. That's HORRIBLE. I say, give points to winners, and if you don't win, you're a loser.
I'm a huge Avs fan. At the start of the season I had my doubts about David Aebischer, but he has won me over now. I hear people saying the Avs won't go after a goalie at the deadline, but don't you think you would want to get at least a veteran goaltender for the playoffs? What if Aebischer gets hurt, and then you have to go to Phil Sauve? That's a big risk and a waste of a lot of talent.
You are correct, sir. Felix Potvin, Tommy Salo, Martin Biron, Sean Burke, Trevor Kidd, Manny Fernandez or Ron Tugnutt all could happen.
What's going on with Jumbo Joe Thornton? Do you see Jumbo Joe coming out of this slump or are the Bruins going to make a drastic trade to shake up the team?
Joe Thornton is playing for coach No. 5. Just think of how many different words of instruction he has heard, different ways he's been taught to play. He's still settling in. He leads all Eastern Conference forwards in assists. He doesn't have All-Star teammates and has to carry the whole team in this defensive era. I wish he played meaner and sought out to destroy other NHL centermen, but overall there are few better than Joey T.
A couple friends and I are taking a road trip from our base near Cadiz, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal, in a few weeks. Any music recommendations you could give us?
Petty Officer First Class Tom Delio, USN
Naval Station Rota, Spain
This time of year in Lisbon, Portugal, it tends to be in the upper 50s. Mid-to-late October weather where I'm from. So I would go heavy on autumn music, which for me is: REM, U2, Psychedelic Furs, INXS, Idlewild, The Replacements and Mark Knopfler. Then, as I'm approaching Lisbon, I'd play Lou Gramm's "Midnight Blue."
Ain't got no regrets
And I ain't losin' track
Of which way I'm going
Ain't gonna double back
Don't want no misplay
Put on no display
An angel? No!
But I know my way
John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.