There are moments in a player’s career that will always stand out. Personal achievements like a first professional goal or an overtime game-winner – team accomplishments such as a conference or league championship. Sometimes, these moments come at the most unexpected times.
As Tyler McNeely sat on the Sound Tigers team bus with a flat tire at April 2, 2011 at 4 a.m. outside of Binghamton, his moment was awaiting him at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena roughly 15 hours later.
“At that moment, I certainly wasn’t thinking about the game…I was just running on adrenaline (that night) because I didn’t get too much sleep.”
Two goals in the third period, including the game-winner with 1:23 left in regulation, and a game-saving poke check to clear the zone while shorthanded 6-on-3 against the league’s best power play in the final 30 seconds?
Not too shabby.
“I look back on it now and it’s a pretty good story.”
McNeely joined the Sound Tigers on an amateur tryout contract on Mar. 24 following the conclusion of his senior season at Northeastern University. The Burnaby, B.C. native was one of 12 players who joined the Sound Tigers during the tail end of the 2010-11 campaign on an ATO, a common move that gives teams the chance to see what younger players can do at the next level.
“It was definitely a little easier with some other college guys there,” McNeely explained. “You’ve got guys coming and going all the time, which was a totally different atmosphere from Hockey East for sure.”
McNeely made the biggest splash of all the ATO players, recording five goals and six assists in just 10 games in addition to a plus/minus rating of plus-9 which topped all Sound Tigers in 2010-11. It should come as no surprise given McNeely’s improvements over the last four seasons with the Huskies. He recorded 28 and 34 points respectively over his last two years, including top marks of 13 goals and 21 assists in his senior season.
Players often take two routes to professional hockey – play major junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, or play Junior A hockey and then move into the collegiate ranks. McNeely chose the latter and started his path with his hometown Burnaby Express of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). His impressive offensive output of 184 points (62 goals, 122 assists) in 112 games speaks for itself, but McNeely notes that his situation allowed him to thrive.
“I got home cooked meals every day, was in my own house…when you’re 15 or 16 and can stay home and play hockey you’re pretty lucky. I got to go to school where I grew up with my friends, so it was definitely a great aspect early on that took some pressure away.”
The next step took place a little further from home…about 3,200 miles away in Boston at Northeastern University.
“I think that the education aspect was huge,” McNeely said. “Hockey doesn’t last for ever, so I got a good opportunity to get an education and I wanted to take advantage of that. In regards to hockey, as a smaller guy I needed a couple more years to grow and develop my skills. I think that really helped me.”
“You can’t help but come down to Boston and see the campus and the rink and not love it… I also grew up watching the Beanpot back home and it was something cool to see and be a part of.”
McNeely put those skills to use averaging more than a point per game during his brief stint with the Sound Tigers. The recent college graduate understands that those skills only played one part of his early AHL success.
“I think that my success was all about the opportunity I was given at the end of the season,” McNeely explained. “ The coaches gave me every opportunity to play and play with some great players like Rhett (Rakhshani) and Jeremy (Colliton). It was a lot of fun to play with those guys.”
The 5’10”, 175-pound forward was bumped up to the top line with Rakhshani and Colliton during the team’s Mar. 30 game at Portland, the Sound Tigers second win against the eventual Atlantic Division Champions in a five-day span. Throughout that time, McNeely was also used as a penalty-killer and was the lone forward on the ice with Brett Motherwell and Benn Olson when the Sound Tigers killed Binghamton’s 6-on-3 to preserve a 4-3 win.
“I was a little bit surprised I was still out there for the PK, but it was another opportunity that the coaches gave me and it was great to be a part of.”
With last season behind him, McNeely is excited to test his game for a full season at the next level with the Islanders organization.
“I think I’m an all around player. I don’t like to limit myself. I can play good defense as well as chip in offensively.. After the season ended, I was hoping I’d get to stay in Bridgeport and with the Islanders organization and luckily I’ve got that chance to show the fans what I can do.”