Concordia alumni Carl Neill making his childhood dream a reality

Former Concordia Stingers’ hockey team defenseman signed a one-year contract with the Laval Rocket of the AHL

Carl Neill skating with the puck on his backhand for the Concordia Stingers. Photo Credit: Caroline Marsh

From a very young age, Carl Neill’s dream was to play professional hockey. But what once seemed like a distant aspiration, has now become an achievable goal.

The former Stinger’s assistant captain knew the uncertainty and competitiveness of the profession, which is why he opted to put his dream on hold and pursue his university education. Neill just recently graduated from Concordia with a bachelor’s degree in Human Relations.

“I didn't really want to start pursuing pro hockey and not have a plan B,” said Neill. “I really wanted to have my degree. It may take a little longer but at least I have a backup option if things didn't work out. I'm really happy with how things worked out.”

He spoke very highly of his tenure with the Stingers, and enjoyed his time under the club’s head coach, Marc-André Élément, who had done a lot to elevate and grow the university’s hockey program. Element’s professionalism and the school’s reputation made his decision to enroll at Concordia a no-brainer.

“My visit with Concordia and Marc-André really gave me a good impression,” he said. “I knew a few guys there and they loved the time they spent [at Concordia]. Also, being close to home wasn't too bad either.”

Neill, who spent three seasons with the Stingers from 2017 to 2020, often reminisces about his first game against division rivals the McGill Redbirds. He had never witnessed an arena so crowded and an atmosphere so electric. It is a game he will never forget.

“I think the most exciting memory was playing against McGill in my first year. I've never seen a rink that was that packed,” said Neill. “Being a part of that, the atmosphere in that rink, is probably my best memory. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.”

Graduating from Concordia was bittersweet, as it meant he could now look to pursue professional hockey with a university degree to fall back on. However, it also meant he would be leaving friends, teammates, and coaching staff behind. 

“I’ve loved my time at Concordia,” said the Stingers Alum. “I’m really happy with my decision.”

Following his final season at Concordia, and COVID-19 restrictions limiting his options, Neill packed his bags and headed overseas in pursuit of opportunity. He soon signed a contract with the Aalborg Pirates over in Denmark, and got his first taste of professional hockey.

“I had a feeling things wouldn't start on time or at all, so I went with my gut and went to Denmark,” said Neill. “I played a full season over there. There’s ex-Concordia guys that played there so I think that’s where the connection was kind of made. It was a great opportunity and I had a lot of fun last year.”

Following his first professional season, Neill returned to Montreal to continue his training and on-ice conditioning, unsure of what the future would hold for him. However, his agent approached him soon-after with the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to play for the Laval Rocket. Ecstatic, Neill put pen to paper and made the deal official. 

The former Stinger has since been dedicated to his offseason training in hopes of cracking the Rocket’s roster out of training camp. His offseason regimen includes early morning workout sessions, weekly on-ice training, and various exercises to prepare his body for the upcoming season.

“I'm trying to get into the best shape I can and play in Laval,” said Neill. “My knock has often been my skating, so me and another ex-Stinger—Mathieu Desautels—skate with a skating coach twice a week, working on explosiveness and quickness in the gym too. Hopefully it will all come together and look good for camp.”

Born and raised in Quebec, Neill dreams of someday playing for the bleu-blanc-rouge, although his immediate focus is to play in the AHL next season. He will certainly be making the most of his opportunity with the Rocket, and hopefully turn some heads.

“I think every kid growing up in Quebec hopes for [such an opportunity], but one step at a time. Hopefully making Laval will steer me in the right direction. But [playing for the Canadiens] is definitely the goal one day for sure.”

A previous version of this article used McGill's old team name. The Link regrets this error.