Home Sports Carl Neill: a Stingers odyssey

Carl Neill: a Stingers odyssey

by Dustin Kagan-Fleming February 18, 2020
Carl Neill: a Stingers odyssey

It’s not unusual for Carl Neill to spend plenty of time handling the puck—he’s the Stingers’ top defenceman.

Even for a defenceman, in the first period against the Nipissing Lakers, his teammates were making sure to feed him the puck as much as they could.

Finally, near the end of the period, the puck went from Neill’s stick to the back of the net. It was a powerplay goal, like many he’d scored before. But this time, the celebration by his teammates was something special.

“I’m really, really proud of him, we all are,” said Neill’s coach, Marc-André Élement.

Neill’s goal was his 84th point as a member of the Concordia Stingers. He had just moved into first place, as the highest scoring defenceman in Stingers history.

“It’s a great honour,” said Neill, who sits just one short of the team’s all-time assist record as well. When he learned he was approaching both records after just three seasons with the team, the stingers alternate captain was shocked.

Carl Neill reflects on his three years as a Concordia Stingers

“I know Concordia’s been around forever,” said Neill. “I imagined there’s some guys a couple hundred years back that must have got a few points so I never really thought of that.”

Maybe he was surprised, but anyone that’s watched him over the last three seasons shouldn’t be. He’s dominated the university game since day one. He’s been one of the country’s best blueliners and made his mark in the Stingers’ history books.

In his three years Neill has collected awards on and off the ice, all-star nominations, and a collection of impressive stats that any player would be proud of.

He has played overseas representing his country, gone to the national university hockey championships, and done it all with the flare to his game that’s allowed him to be one of the top players in the league.

Neill joined the Stingers with a shining resume in junior hockey. He was captain of the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL, where he set records just like he’s started to do with the Stingers.

His 178 points rank fourth all-time in Phoenix history while his 139 assists are second overall. Among defencemen though, he is the sole leader in both, along with goals (39).

Sherbrooke was also where he would end up meeting his best friend, future roommate and Stingers teammate Chase Harwell.

The two played three seasons together with the Phoenix and joined forces again a few years later at Concordia. Harwell’s face lights up with a big smile whenever the topic of his teammate and former captain comes up.

“He’s my best friend,” said Harwell. “We grew up together. He’s a great guy, I’m just so happy to see him have that success. He deserves it.”

Chase Harwell and Neill have played together as teammates for six seasons at the junior and university levels combined

His impressive junior career was enough to get him drafted into the NHL. In the fifth round of the NHL entry draft, the Vancouver Canucks chose Neill. He went on to play in several professional training camps before deciding to take the U Sports route and earn a degree before trying to head to the pro leagues when things didn’t work out in terms of the NHL.

Looking back, there’s no doubt in his mind that he made the right choice by going down the U Sports path.

“I made the right decision coming here,” said Neill. “Coming out of junior, not knowing much of what U Sports is Marc told me it was a good program here. I had faith in him and he had faith in me. It coupled well. I’m really happy about my decision. I’m happy I didn’t go to McGill [instead].”

While it’s been gaining traction and notoriety, U Sports isn’t a league that every player knows about coming out of junior. Neill was entering a completely new world and system of hockey. He’s become a major advocate for the league now, but three years ago, it was a leap of faith.

From the moment Neill walked into the Ed Meagher arena, the expectations were sky-high for him. He was the marquee rookie of a strong class of first years. His coach expected him to come in and become a number one defenceman early on.

“He’s going to be the guy who leads the power play, he’s going to be the quarterback,” said Élement just before Neill’s rookie season in 2017. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be one of the top defencemen in the league.”

Despite any internal or external pressure to come in and be a top player in a new league, Neill played like a veteran from his very first game.

A cerebral player, he was a key contributor in what would be an explosive offense that season. He showed the vision and ability to rush the puck up ice that earned him NHL attention and became an instant player that opposing teams had to gameplan for.

“He certainly lived up to the expectations,” said former stingers captain Philippe Hudon. “He never second-guessed his decision to play U Sports hockey, and coupled with his desire to become a better hockey player, he was an immediate impact to our team and has done wonders since then.”

Neill would end up leading the entire country in scoring by a defenceman with 31 points in 28 games. His team was one of the top eight in the league, earning a trip to the national championship for the first time in over 30 years for Concordia.

Neill has been the back bone of the Stingers’ defensive group since he joined the team back in 2017

While Neill and the Stingers ended up losing, the defender was rewarded for his impressive rookie season. He was named to the OUA East first all-star team as well as the U Sports all-rookie team.

Off the ice, he was presented with the Guy Lafleur award for his combination of success in the game as well as in the classroom. All in all, a good start to his university career.

His second season, the team lost their top two scorers, including league MVP Anthony Beauregard. Instead of an offensive step back, or sophomore slump, Neill kicked it up a notch. Despite a less productive team, he upped his season totals to 33 points, good enough for second in the country among defencemen. He was named to the OUA East all-star team and earned OUA defenceman of the year honours.

On top of that, he was selected to the FISU games to represent Canada in Russia once his season ended. He was among the team of top university players that won bronze at the tournament.

At the start of the year though, another of Neill’s talents was recognized. He was named an assistant captain for the team and his leadership became a major part of his role on the team. The message constantly repeated by teammates is that Neill takes care of people.

As much as his sarcastic prodding and joking are a part of him, he is someone who truly cares for the wellbeing of his teammates.

He helped recruit former teammates like Harwell and Hugo Roy and made sure they and their fellow rookies were brought into the fold immediately and never had to feel like outsiders.

“Obviously he’s an amazing hockey player but on the other side he’s just a great dude,” said Harwell. “If a guy needs a ride, he picks them up. If a guy is having trouble at home or with his girlfriend, he’s there for you. He’s the guy you want on your team.”

Neill’s goal was always to make the guys comfortable, to show them the ropes and have his teammates enjoy an environment where they felt supported and relaxed.

“It’s important to have that on a team,” said Neill, listing past teammates like Hudon who helped him as a rookie. “I came here my first year, not really knowing what was going on. It’s good to pass the torch and help the boys along.”

He’s the kind of player that teammates light up when asked to talk about him. The respect for Neill in the Stingers locker room is evident.

While this past season may not have been as statistically dominant as the last two (20 points in 25 games), Neill had plenty to celebrate.

He played a preseason game as a member of a Quebec U Sports all-star team against the top prospects of the Montreal Canadiens and etched his name across the Stingers record books.

“All the credit goes to him and his work ethic,” said Élement.

Neill now sits 12th all-time in scoring in Stingers history in addition to sitting second all-time in assists and leading among defencemen.

And for the first time, his Stingers future is uncertain. Neill has turned down pro offers every season. He has focused on finishing his degree before turning to the professional world.

Where he’ll be next year, whether it’s at Concordia or on a new team in the pro sphere, is unclear.

If he is wearing a non-Concordia jersey next season, those around him think he’ll be just as successful in that league as he has been in U sports.

“I certainly think he can bring that same impact at the pro level,” said Hudon. “He has tremendous hockey sense. [He’s] capable of effectively fending off attackers as much as anchoring the blue line. Not to mention his high skill level and smooth skating abilities.”

If it’s Neill’s last run with the Stingers, there would be no better way to cap it off than another run to nationals. Despite an up and down year for the team that has been plagued by injuries, the Stingers are red hot heading into the postseason.

Neill called the mood in the room similar to the excitement of his first year where they made their run to nationals.

He definitely has his mind set on getting back there and his teammates can tell.

Neill amassed 84 points in 81 games as a member of the Concordia Stingers

“He wants it bad, he’s pushing even harder,” said Harwell. “It motivates the guys to go even harder as well.”

Looking back to the end of Neill’s first season, when asked if he felt like he was a number one defenceman as his coach had suggested, the rookie said not yet, but maybe next year.

Since then he’s become a franchise leader for defensive scoring, collected all-star nominations, academic awards, represented his country, and made his mark on the team.

When asked the same question at the end of this season, he had a similar answer.

“I don’t know, there’s a lot of number one defencemen in our league. I guess it depends on the night,” said Neill.

After all of this, it is probably safe to say that Neill can call himself not only a number one defenceman, but one of Concordia’s all-time greats.

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