Charity hockey game offers perspective for Penguins winger Neal
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, 6:46 p.m.
Another week of the new normal awaits Penguins sharp-shooting winger James Neal in Ontario.
He will practice with the junior club Oshawa Generals, work out three days with Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos under the supervision of former Penguin Gary Roberts and try to not think about what he isn't doing because of the NHL lockout.
That would be collecting some of the $5 million salary on the first year of a six-season extension he signed in February.
“Everyone is in the same boat,” Neal said Sunday. “You go day by day, try to keep the same routine. That is the hardest thing to deal with — sticking with a routine. But, definitely, coming off a good season is better than not having had a good one. In that aspect, it has made sticking with the routine a little better.”
Neal scored a career-best 40 goals last season. His chemistry with Evgeni Malkin helped spark the Penguins' Russian star to a second NHL scoring title and first league MVP, and Neal finished his first full season in Pittsburgh as a first-team All-Star.
The NHL lockout hits Day 72 on Monday, and games are canceled through Dec. 14.
The Penguins will have 30 games wiped out by then — or in case local hockey fans needed more salt in their wounds, 30 opportunities to see a power play that would include three previous 40-goal scorers in Neal, Malkin and center Sidney Crosby.
Neal's 18 power-play goals led the league last season.
His Saturday night offered a hint that he may have proved even more opportunistic had a season already started.
Neal scored four goals during a charity game in Atlantic City, N.J. He said the game raised at least $500,000 for victims of Superstorm Sandy. New York Rangers center Brad Richards, Neal's linemate and traveling roommate when they played together with Dallas, was one of the event organizers.
The former Stars' stars were joined on a line by Ottawa Senators winger Daniel Alfredsson, and Neal scored his goals on New Jersey's future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur.
The no-contact game provided Neal a chance to play something close to competitive NHL hockey, though he acknowledged defense was scarce for Brodeur and fellow goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers.
Fan support for Neal was even more scarce.
“I came out to a building of boos,” he said. “Those old Philly faithful, right? There was a mix of Rangers and Devils fans, too, but I think it was those Philly fans letting me have it.”
Jerseys and equipment worn by the players will be auctioned through early December, and Neal said there is hope the charity game ultimately will raise “upwards of $1 million” for storm victims.
He met several of those victims after the exhibition.
“It definitely was good for some perspective,” Neal said. “When it comes down to it, those people lost their homes and practically everything. It's good to keep that in mind in case you start thinking you have it too rough.
“We don't, at least compared to those folks.”
Notes: The NHL and its Players' Association were in contact over the weekend, but no negotiations are scheduled. The last bargaining session was Wednesday. … As of Friday night, Crosby had not made a decision whether to attend a weeklong group training session in Arizona. The first day is Monday, and many NHL players were to participate, Crosby said.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5635.
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