Barring some sort of catastrophic turn of events, Chris Neil will play in his 1,000th regular season game as an Ottawa Senator on Saturday night vs. the Los Angeles Kings. Neil was drafted by the team in 1998 and has been a fixture at right wing since making his debut in 2001. For any Senators fan, it’s hard to imagine the squad without him. To celebrate the milestone, we’re dedicating a special edition of Five Thoughts to the top five moments and characteristics of the man teammates call “Neiler”:
This massive hit on Johnny Boychuk:
Throughout his career, Neil has been lauded by Sens fans as someone who plays a tough, physical game without crossing the line. He finishes his checks, he drops the gloves when he has to, and he generally goes about his business in the manner you would expect from a fourth line grinder. I’m sure you could find large swaths of Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens fans (and probably even Sens fans if we’re being honest) who will tell you that Neil wasn’t quite so clean, but it’s true that he’s never been suspended.
This hit on poor Johnny Boychuk, then, is the quintessential Chris Neil moment: an earth-shattering collision with an unsuspecting defenseman that didn’t result in a penalty being called and had fans on their feet. Whether you thought it was charging or not probably depends on whether you were a Sens fans. Regardless, it really was something to behold:
His Game 2, 2012 OT Goal
As he’s aged and his role has diminished, it’s easy to forget that Neil has 112 career goals. That’s not a total you’d associate with a no-talent goon; Neil has always been a decent skater and he’s been known to pot a rebound or two. His overtime winner in game two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals versus the Rangers came about exactly as you might expect, with Neil banging in a rebound following a mad scramble with bodies flying everywhere. It was a very Chris Neil goal:
That series against the Rangers was much closer than it had any right to be, and Neil’s play and leadership were a factor in that.
His Oscar-worthy Acting
Sens fans have been treated to a wide range of low-budget local business commercials featuring players from the team, but Chris Neil’s were particularly memorable. My favourite:
His work in the community
While the bit about his acting may have been a bit tongue-in-cheek, Neil’s charitable work in the community is no joke. He is perhaps best known for his tireless efforts on behalf of Roger’s House — he and his wife Caitlin stepped in as honourary co-chairs when close friend Mike Fisher was traded to Nashville. Sens fans who have interacted with Neil in both formal and informal settings have unanimous praise for the man.
What He Means to His Teammates
You don’t last 15 seasons and 1,000 games with one team if you are someone who isn’t enjoyable to be around, especially if you’re not exactly a top flight scorer. It’s easy for those of us who aren’t close to the team at all to dismiss the value of “leadership” and these sorts of things, but Neil has long been leaned on to do more than just contribute on the scoresheet. By all accounts, he’s a consummate professional and his surprisingly spry play last season is a testament to that. For all those little things, he deserves to be recognized.
So I put it to you then, readers: what is your favourite Chris Neil moment?