McNeill, Ruopp test the waters in contrasting NHL markets

Dorian Geiger
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Raiders’ players return from NHL prospects camps in Chicago and Phoenix

Mark McNeill (left) and Harrison Ruopp (right) are all grins following their prospect camp excursions to Chicago and Phoenix, respectively.

As far as NHL markets go, Chicago and Phoenix’s hockey scenes share some obvious discrepancies.


Just ask Raiders’ centre Mark McNeill and defenceman Harrison Ruopp.


McNeill and Ruopp just returned to Prince Albert on Tuesday from separate NHL training camps with the Blackhawks and Coyotes, respectively.


Chicago, an original six franchise with nearly a century of history, claimed a Stanley Cup in 2010. Then there’s Phoenix. With an ambiguous future, little history and an iffy fan base, the juxtaposing hockey markets between McNeill and Ruopp’s prospective professional clubs is intriguing.


For Ruopp, it was tough to gauge Phoenix’s hockey culture in just one trip.


“It’s kind of hard to judge that just being in the development because you don’t really get the feel of the fans and stuff,” said the 18-year old defenceman.


Ruopp, however, was overly impressed in the fans that did show up for the prospects camp July 6-11 in Phoenix.


“There were fans that actually came out and watched the practices and there were quite a few of them so I definitely had a good feeling from that. It felt like I was in a good hockey community,” added Ruopp.


McNeill, maybe more than anyone, appreciates the Windy City’s hockey-saturated market — he’s a loyal, lifelong Blackhawks fan.


“They’re definitely hockey crazy there for sure. They love the Blackhawks and it was great seeing the team too, they’re still a really young team and the future looks bright for their organization and their team in the future,” he said.


McNeill, whose proclivity for Chicago stems from a childhood fascination in the team’s red jerseys and logo, is still shocked that he might be wearing one under the glare of the NHL spotlight someday.


“I was really honoured to be selected by Chicago, you know — they’re an original six franchise and a team that’s been my favorite team made it even that much more special,” recollected McNeill on his recent NHL drafting. 


Hockey markets aside, McNeill and Ruopp are overly ecstatic at the prospect of playing professional hockey. After nearly two decades of relentless conditioning, McNeill and Ruopp could care less who they wind up playing for — they’re just happy to be acknowledged at an NHL level.

“They’re definitely hockey crazy there for sure. They love the Blackhawks and it was great seeing the team too, they’re still a really young team and the future looks bright for their organization and their team in the future.” Mark McNeill


Both seem to have fit in quite comfortably in their respective NHL cities.


“It’s a beautiful city. Just the weather and everything. Where the rink is in Glendale it’s really nice as well,” said Ruopp.


“It’s definitely something I could get used to my ultimate goal is to play there and make the team as soon as I can,” he added.


McNeill too, seems to have developed somewhat of a love affair with Chicago during his short rendezvous there.


“We went to a White Sox game which was really cool and I enjoyed just walking around downtown doing a little shopping. Being able to witness the city, it was really special,” explained McNeill.


Catching a better perspective of what it takes to play at an NHL level, however, was the ultimate focus of the two Raiders’ players during their stints in the U.S.


“Being in Phoenix you get to see what it would be like to play at the NHL level. You play with guys that are a lot bigger, stronger than you, faster than you. You see what you really have to do to get to that level and it’s really eye opening for me,” commented Ruopp.


“It was me getting my feet wet — my first step in the door,” said McNeill.


“You know, there’s a long journey still ahead and a lot of hard work I need to put in in order to make that team,” he added.


McNeil and Ruopp will return to Chicago and Phoenix later in summer and early fall for further conditioning and prospect camps. It is unlikely McNeill and Ruopp will be joining the ranks of their NHL teams this season and both are expected back in Raiders’ jerseys come the commencement of the Western Hockey League season.


Organizations: NHL, Blackhawks, Prince Albert White Sox Western Hockey League

Geographic location: Chicago, Phoenix, Windy Glendale U.S.

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