Many Portage Terrier fans were quite surprised when they saw Rory Neill put home back-to-back goals in their opening game of the Centennial Cup.
Neill had played only one game with the Terriers this season and only five total games with the squad over the last three years. However, in just two games at the Centennial Cup tournament, the 19-year-old has three goals and three assists.
"Blake (Spiller) and I had the conversation throughout the year when I came to Selkirk, the game I played this year. He just asked if I'd be available for the Centennial, and I said, 'As long as my season is over, then I'd be eligible to play,'" Neill explains. "When my season ended, I had a quick week of celebration with my team, and then just two weeks ago, I started practicing."
Neill notes the entire team has been very welcoming, which has made it easier for him to get comfortable in the green and white.
The Winnipegger spent this year in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League with the St. James Canucks, where he put up 90 points in just 43 games. Neill says the only reason he hasn't been playing with the Terriers for the last two seasons is because of his commitment to his education.
He says he's taken on a different role with the Terriers but he's been liking it so far.
"I was a defenceman this year and have been for the last few years now. I came up, and Blake decided we might be better off using me as a forward," Neill continues. "I've just been trying to do whatever I can to help the team. Scoring a couple of greasy ones isn't normally my forte but it's been nice to get a couple on the board."
#CentennialCup | Rory Neill pots his second of the game on the doorstep to put the hometown @PortageTerriers up 3-0. pic.twitter.com/XjlAWyh1OM— CJHL (@cjhlhockey) May 13, 2023
The MJHL's leading goal-scorer, Ryan Botterill, scored twice against the Kam River Fighting Walleye. Both of those goals came with a new power-play unit that saw Neill as the quarterback.
"He's huge for us. He's a big playmaker," says Botterill. "He puts the puck in the net and wins a lot of battles. He's been a huge pick-up for us."
Neill is currently tied for the tournament lead in points with six. The other player tied with him is his linemate, Austin Peters. He describes what it's been like playing alongside Peters and Mike Stubbs.
"Those guys are awesome," Neill says. "Two very highly skilled players. Two high-compete guys and they've been awesome linemates so far. I couldn't have asked for anyone better."
The St. James Canucks were the MMJHL Champions, thanks in no small part to Neill's 22 points in 14 playoff games. While his team was the favourite during that run, he believes the Terriers have been looked at as underdogs.
Neill says the host team isn't usually expected to go far in this tournament but with their 2-0 start that includes a record-breaking performance, the Terriers have proven they are not to be taken lightly. Behind the support of the home crowd, Neill truly believes the Terriers have what it takes to win it all.
"The guys were hyping (the crowd) up the last couple of weeks here, and it's been awesome. I've been lucky enough to have some friends and family in the stands, who will be here for the rest of the week, as well. It's awesome to play well in front of friends and family, and that crowd was electric. If they keep bringing that energy, we'll have more success, hopefully."
The Terriers' third game of the Centennial Cup goes down tonight as they face off with the Battlefords North Stars. Puck drop is set for 7:30 at Stride Place.