SUN Hockey Pool

The Hall gets it right

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

One game to play and one game to win and who do you want in your lineup?

You can play along at home if you'd like.

Cam Neely or Clark Gillies? Neely or Bernie Federko? Neely or Joey Mullen?

This isn't even the stuff of good bar-room arguments. This is that easy.

Gillies, Federko and Mullen all were voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame under questionable circumstances in years in which Neely had been eligible, probably because they won Stanley Cups and played longer and had nice round magical numbers.

But numbers can't begin to tell you what your eyes saw. Numbers supplement careers, they don't define them. Numbers and dates and victories make for wonderful resume reading and if that was the only criteria then Dino Ciccarelli and not Neely would have won out the day yesterday.

Only this time, the Hall of Fame selection committee got it right. For that they should be congratulated. Only this time, there can be no real argument that could have prevented Neely from this rightful place. Not from anyone who watched him play.

In fact, the arguments that kept Neely from the Hall previously -- that his career wasn't long enough, that he played too few games, that he was hurt too often -- are in a way a tribute to the manner in which he chose to play the game.

He played with skill and recklessness which made him one of the unique talents of his time. He could score and he could hit and he could make plays and he could hurt people and his own unwillingness to sit out ended up hurting him most in the end.

Neely refused to stop playing with a thigh so badly injured that some of the muscle on his leg was turning to bone. That led to a left knee injury, which doctors will tell came about because he was over-compensating for the pain and weakness in his thigh. The career-ending hip injury -- and this was slow and painful to watch if not live -- came about because of what the thigh and the knee had already been through.

A hockey player skates on bent knees, pushing with the thighs, swinging the hips. Except it all broke down for Neely -- and he went as far as he could.

And right to the remarkable end, almost none of that could stop him. Maybe the ending, more than a dubious beginning in Vancouver, more than the dominant big years in Boston, tells you as much about this athlete as anything.

With two knees shot, with a degenerative hip and a thigh on the verge of collapse, he managed to somehow sneak in 162 games over parts of his five final seasons. Those games and nine more in the playoffs. One hundred and seventy one games in all. With nothing to skate on but will.

Neely scored 129 goals in those fateful five seasons. Or to translate that number to meaningful statistics for just a moment: He scored at a 62-goal pace when his hands worked those five years but almost nothing else did.

What is more Hall of Fame than that?

Scoring all those goals on a team where there were few other offensive options. This wasn't Glenn Anderson playing on a second line with Mark Messier, never facing a No. 1 checking line, playing behind Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. This wasn't Ciccarelli, standing a few steps from the crease, chirping at the goalie and batting in somebody else's rebound.

And it makes you wonder: If there is no place for Anderson and Ciccarelli now, will there ever be?

When will there be a year with the kind of opening that enabled the Hall committee to revisit Neely's candidacy?

To get it right after six years waiting.

Anyone who watched Cam Neely play in Boston, heard him, felt him, knows where he belongs. Even if he had to limp his way into the Hall.


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