When it came time to name his son, Bob Ricard didn’t hesitate. It was 1996 and Cam Neely, having dominated the game for a decade with a unique mix of strength, skill and passion when healthy, had not retired yet. Yes, this Bruins fan’s son had to be named Cam.
His wife, Heather, wasn’t so sure. But, as coincidence would have it, her grandmother’s maiden name was Cameron, so for family or fan reasons, or some combination thereof, baby boy Ricard had a name.
By further coincidence, a few years later, Bob Ricard learned his son and his namesake also shared the same birthday, June 6. As Cam Ricard grew older and learned what Neely stood for, he felt a connection and used Neely’s example as a model to replicate.
As a 5-foot-8, 160-pound 17-year-old high school senior, Ricard didn’t have Neely’s size, but he had his heart and fearlessness, whether he was playing for the New England Stars junior team, the Hollis-Brookline (N.H.) high school team, dirt biking, snowboarding or wakeboarding.
It is that challenging, daring and engaging spirit that Cam’s family, friends, teammates and community are committed to remembering and honoring after he died in a car accident driving home from a Stars practice at Skate 3 in Tyngsboro, Mass., on Dec. 9.
“When I think of Cam, three words come to mind — crazy, passionate and invincible. And when I say crazy, I mean it in the best way,” said one of Cam’s teammates and best friends, Ian McNamara, in a YouTube posting from a Dec. 13 service celebrating Cam’s life attended by 1,000 people. “He lived life with no fear. … Even though he only lived to be 17, he lived life the way it should be and he had a very full 17 years.”
If Cam committed to something, he was all in. When he built snow jumps at his home in Hollis just west of Nashua, they were taller than him. He was meticulous about cleaning and prepping the sheet of ice at the family’s backyard rink. Whether it was playing hockey, riding his dirt bike, catching air on the water or the snow, Cam loved speed. In fact, after spending many years on the diamond, he told his father that he wasn’t going to play high school baseball because the game was too slow.
Cam made a difficult decision to play for the Stars in the Northern States Hockey League this year rather than for his high school team. He saw it as an opportunity to further develop his game and pursue playing in college. A forward, he had a couple of points in 20 games, making the transition to the higher level, but it was understood he would need a couple of seasons at the junior level.
“It sounds like a cliché, but he really was a coach’s dream,” said Stars general manager Dan Fontas. “Whether he was playing first, second, third or fourth line, he never gave you attitude. He showed up every day and worked hard. He didn’t shrug his shoulders if he made a bad play or get mad at his teammates if they made a bad pass. He just wanted to help the team produce.”
Dec. 9 was the worst night of his life, Fontas said. A former player at UMass-Lowell and a veteran coach with Acton-Boxborough High School and the Stars, Fontas said neither he, nor current Stars head coach Darryl Green, himself a former player and assistant at Lowell, had ever experienced something like this.
The Stars took the day after the accident off and then met on Wednesday.
“We wanted to try to let the emotions out,” Fontas said. “Let people talk. Vent a little bit. Try to put some sense into it. It was a tough day. It was a talk about life in general, giving the perspective that you can’t take things for granted. Darryl told them it’s OK to hug your mom and dad.”
Cam’s service was Friday and the team elected to play its scheduled home game the next morning, Dec. 14, the last game before Christmas break, as a tribute to Cam. His teammate, Steve Upton, played the national anthem on violin in full uniform before the game. “I’ve been in law enforcement and hockey for many years and that was the most moving rendition of the national anthem I’ve ever seen,” said Northern States Hockey League commissioner Wayne Sheehan.
The Stars announced Cam as a member of the starting lineup and played the first 15 seconds or so of the game with four skaters.
As the Stars complete renovations to their locker room, there will be a stall for Cam for the rest of the season. His No. 22 is affixed to the Stars’ helmets, and the team created a tribute video posted to YouTube and the team’s website.
Separately, a scholarship fund has been set up in Cam’s name. A pond hockey tournament is set for Jan. 5 in neighboring Brookline to raise funds; before Christmas, more than 200 players already had committed to playing.
As adventurous as Cam was, he relished spending time with his family, his parents and his sister, Marissa, 20.
“I was living vicariously through him watching him play hockey and it comes to an end; it’s horrible,” said Bob Ricard. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”
He continued, “He didn’t want to fail. He had an intensity and a zest for life. … Playing hockey, not once do I ever recall him not getting up from a big hit, and that’s how he was riding the dirt bike. He was invincible.”
Contributions may be sent to Cam Ricard Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Santander Bank, P.O. Box 153, Hollis, NH 03049. For information on the pond hockey tournament, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.