Durham Region product James Neal has had quite the ride over the last 12 months.
After a heartbreaking loss last season in the Stanley Cup Final, Neal went unprotected by Nashville in the expansion draft.
But the 30-year-old landed on his feet, helping lead the Vegas Golden Knights to what many thought was impossible.
Before puck drop on Wednesday night, his father, Peter Neal, was already beaming.
His oldest son James is playing in his second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
James didn’t disappoint, scoring 7:58 into game number two.
“He scored, yeah, the real deal, OK boys, got to have a toast here,” said Peter, after watching him score the opening goal.
Putting pucks in the back of the net is something James has been doing since he was a boy.
“I finally put him on the last 30 seconds of the tournament, we were losing, he went out and scored a goal, kids about four or five years younger, he went out and put one in, everybody just looked at me like, ‘Why didn’t you send him out earlier?'” Peter said.
Peter coached James on and off during his minor hockey career. Seeing what he’s accomplished this year in a leadership role with Vegas, makes Peter very proud.
“He grabbed on and said, ‘Dad, don’t worry.’ I said, ‘James, this is going to be a bottom-place team.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, this is going to be a good team Dad,” said Peter.
Surprising the world, James buying into his new city and new franchise right away has paid off for the upcoming unrestricted free agent.
‘I told him to rent month to month and he said, ‘No, I’m renting until June, the Stanley Cup’s in June.’ OK James, that’s good motivation and it worked out good,” Peter said.
The community has backed James from day one, excited to see him continue to chase Lord Stanley’s mug.
“It’s great to see James doing as well as he’s doing, I’m sure every NHL player dreams having the opportunity he has,” said Cory Hass, James’ friend.
“I think it just validates the passion that people in this area have for hockey,” said Kathleen Dymond, who went to school with James.
Game 2 didn’t go Neal’s way but it’s not over, the series now shifts to Washington for the next two. Peter and his wife hope to see James back in Vegas in Game 5 with the potential of hoisting the Stanley Cup.