- Matt Kalman, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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On Wednesday afternoon at TD Garden, a little more than a month since the Bruins completed their historic collapse against Philadelphia, the Jacobs men elevated Neely to president of the club -- a role that had been vacant since Harry Sinden became adviser to the owner in August 2006.
Fourteen years after his storied playing career came to an end, the 45-year-old Neely is now in a position he didn't really envision for himself after he initially hung up his skates.
"I certainly did not [expect to be team president someday]," said Neely after his coronation. "As I said, it was a great opportunity to get back into the organization three years ago and I've enjoyed it more than I expected to. And I'd say the last year or so, Mr. Jacobs and Charlie started putting a bug in my ear about possibly this happening. It's something I'm proud to be and I'm looking forward to all those challenges that go with it."
When Neely returned as vice president after a number of years in the public sector, he joined an organization that barely resembled the one he played for and led to two Stanley Cup Finals appearances. The team was coming off a second straight playoff-less season. General manager Peter Chiarelli had endured a gaffe-filled first season at the helm, which included the disastrous hiring and firing of head coach Dave Lewis.
Chiarelli has learned from his mistakes (including finding the right coach in Claude Julien) and the rest of the organization has grown around him with the additions of Jim Benning and Don Sweeney as assistant GMs. The team has won two playoff series in two years and will be adding a top prospect at the draft later this month with the No. 2 overall pick.
While he has to share the credit, it's no coincidence that things have turned around since Neely's return. None other than Sinden, Bruins president for 18 years until 2006, knows that Neely has made an impact and will be able to do even more to benefit the Bruins with his new title.
"Well, when Cam first arrived here at training camp it didn't take long to see that we had a special player in that particular training camp before he had even played a game with the team," said Sinden. "Before he arrived here three years ago and he got into management of the business, and became an executive in the business, it wasn't very long before I felt the same thing about his future and our goal. I think he was gifted as a player and is very, very gifted as a management person, so I think Mr. Jacobs and Charlie are going to be very, very proud of him."
Charlie Jacobs made it clear that both the hockey operations and business sides of the franchise will report to Neely. That doesn't change much on the hockey ops side, where Chiarelli had already been working under Neely. Sinden was able to mix business and hockey well, and it's expected Neely will do the same.
"Hockey is my passion and what happens on the ice is a huge passion for me. I want to be involved heavily with that, like I have been," said Neely. "I'll get more involved on the business side. It's very interesting to me."
It took maybe three seconds after Neely was hired as vice president in 2007 for everyone to predict he would someday ascend to the presidency. Now he's there. Any doubts Neely might've had about his ability to be a manager (doubts probably similar to those Vancouver once had about Neely's playing ability before trading him to Boston) have been squashed like an unsuspecting puck-carrier in the corner of the old Boston Garden. Neely, who once put the power in power forward, is definitely making the most of his power with the modern-day Bruins.
"Well when I was first offered the position to join the team it took me a while to decide to do it. I certainly welcomed the challenge after I decided to do it," Neely explained. "The biggest thing for me was really the commitment that I saw from our ownership group which, at times, everybody had questioned, but they certainly have given our general manager the resources to put a product on the ice that competes for the Stanley Cup and you can see how things have changed because of that.
"I certainly wanted to see how I would do in the three years since and if I am enjoying it, and quite I frankly found myself enjoying it more than I expected to. It's been fun working with Peter -- there's been some times where it hasn't been so much fun depending on how the team is playing but that is part of sports. And as I said, I look forward to the challenges ahead. This is a huge honor and opportunity for me and I'm looking forward to us giving the fans what they deserve which is the Stanley Cup."
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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