Second-year Stinger uses past as a forward to help him as defenceman
When Carl Neill played hockey as a kid, his dad wanted to make sure Neill didn’t become a goalie, because he was one himself. “He encouraged me to not do that part of the sport, so I’m very grateful for that,” Neill said.
Neill’s dad probably made the right decision because his son used his talents as a defenceman to lead the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team in points this season, with 33. Neill joined the Stingers last year after the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2015, didn’t sign him to a contract. He was named to the U SPORTS all-rookie team last season after earning 31 points, the most by a defenceman in the country.
Neill added that throughout his hockey career, his dad was always his biggest influence. “I’m an only child, so I spent a lot of time with my dad growing up,” said Neill, who’s from Lachute, Que. “Just the way he is as a guy, with his judgement and character, he was a big role model.”
With nine goals and 55 assists in 56 regular-season games with the Stingers, Neill is the prototypical offensive defenceman. He tries to model his game after Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson, who had 68 points and won the Stanley Cup last season. “He’s good all-around,” said Neill. “He picks up points, he’s good defensively, and he’s the type of player you need whether you’re up a goal or down a goal.”
Neill started playing hockey as a forward, and says that’s what helps make him so dangerous offensively. He switched positions in pee-wee, and developed his defensive game while playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QJMHL). “Once I got older, I knew when to jump in the play and make the right decisions,” he said.
The defenceman spent four-and-a-half seasons with the Phoenix, first playing with them at 16 years old in 2012-13. He became team captain in 2015-16, and halfway through the following season, they traded him to the Charlottetown Islanders for two draft picks. Neill said it was emotional to leave Sherbrooke, but understands they had to make the trade to build the team for the future.
“Playing junior hockey at 16 was really special, and it was my first time away from home, so the city really took me in with open arms,” Neill said about his time in Sherbrooke. “A lot of teams in junior are run like a business, but [it] felt like a family. A lot of the staff, coaches, and players I’m still in contact with today.”
Two of Neill’s former teammates in Sherbrooke during the 2014-15 season, Raphaël Lafontaine and Charles-Éric Légaré, helped influence him to join the Stingers in 2017. In turn, Neill influenced forward Hugo Roy to join the team this season. Roy played three seasons with the Phoenix, and was team captain after Neill left.
“Recruiting comes a lot from players who know each other,” Neill said. “Especially schools around [Montreal]. They pretty much have all the same things to offer, especially hockey-wise […]. Knowing Legaré and Lafontaine, I got a good sense of what the program was like.”
As was the case with Sherbrooke, Neill quickly established himself as a leader for the Stingers. In just his second season, he was chosen as assistant captain, alongside forward Philippe Sanche and defenceman Alexandre Gosselin. As a leader, Neill said he wants to be held accountable.
“I’m not going to start yelling at guys about plays I didn’t do myself,” Neill said. “I try to stay pretty calm and lead by example on the ice.”
The Stingers had a star-studded rookie class last year that included Neill and forward Massimo Carozza. Both were named to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) all-rookie team last year. Most of those players left to pursue other opportunities, such as Carozza, who went to play professional hockey in Italy.
Neill and forward Jean-Philippe Beaulieu were the only two rookies from last season to stay with the team this year. Neill, who studies human relations, wants to graduate from university before thinking about a professional career.
“With Vancouver not working out, I had a few pro options [in the minor leagues], but they were all a one-year deal,” Neill said. “I felt more comfortable going to school and getting a degree first […]. For me, it was tough; you see guys whose careers don’t pan out and they have nothing left.”
Neill said he chose to study human relations because it suits his personality. He applies things he’s learned in the classroom to the locker room, such as conflict resolution and working with different types of people, which has helped him be a better leader. Once he graduates from Concordia, he plans to continue pursuing his dream of playing professional hockey.
“I need to round off my game,” Neill said about what he needs to improve. “Offence has always been a key part of my game, but a better understanding defensively would get me to the next level.”
The Stingers season ended in the first round of the playoffs against the Queen’s Gaels last week.
Main photo by Hannah Ewen.