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Impact
Impact!
NHL.com's Online Magazine
September/2003, Vol. 2, Issue 1
  • Fedorov, Hatcher, Kariya, Selanne find new homes for 2003-04

  • Wigge: Detroit 'Hatches' time-honored blueprint for success

  • Mighty Ducks have reloaded for another Cup run

  • Great Outdoors: NHL hockey embraces the brace of winter

  • Neilson changed hockey, won friends

  • Brooks 'a relentless advocate' for hockey

  • World Cup 2004: A world-wind of hockey on the horizon

  • Behind the scenes: Making a hockey video game

  • Photo of the month

  • Back issues of Impact

  •  
    Roger Neilson
    Roger Neilson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year and a section of Peterborough's main street was renamed Neilson Drive.

    Remembering Roger
    Neilson changed hockey, won friends
    By John McGourty | Impact! Magazine



    Rugged defenseman Chris Phillips, who has weathered some tough storms in his 25 years, cried when the Ottawa Senators dropped Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils.

    For Phillips, the tears were only partially associated with the magnitude of the defeat. The true disappointment was the defeat prevented Roger Neilson, the Senators' assistant coach, from going for the Stanley Cup.

    Not long after Phillips cried, he was joined by the rest of the hockey world.

    For the past three years, everyone connected with the National Hockey League watched with sadness as Neilson battled cancer. He earned great admiration for his courage, faith, work ethic and humor.

    Neilson, 69, finally succumbed on June 21 at his home near Peterborough, Ontario, after battling skin and bone cancer.

    During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Neilson remained a vital force with the Senators, who had won the Presidents' Trophy for the best record during the regular season. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, Neilson had addressed the team before Game 5.

    Roger Neilson: 1934 - 2003

    "It wasn't something we talked about every day," Phillips said of the Senators' desire to win for Neilson. "But every guy in this room knew it. I feel terrible. This was the team that was going to be able to do that, win one for Rog, and we let him down."

    "From a guy who only made it to the Stanley Cup Finals once, he told us that you have to know that it's not a given that if you lose you'll be back the next year," said Ottawa forward Shaun Van Allen. "It doesn't work that way. This might be your chance, so take it."

    "There is no way to measure accurately the number of lives Roger Neilson touched, inside and outside the hockey world, during his lifetime of devotion to the game," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville upon hearing of Neilson's death. "And, there is no way to measure our sorrow at the news of his passing today. Hockey has lost a great mind, a great spirit, a great friend. The National Hockey League mourns his loss, but celebrates his legacy -- the generations of players he counseled, the coaches he molded, the changes his imagination inspired and the millions of fans he entertained."

    Neilson loved the game of hockey and the people who played it. He was an innovator who influenced the style of modern hockey and he showed great concern for others. Neilson was gentle and friendly, if a bit shy, in public. In private, he displayed several other sides of his personality, turning his caustic wit on one player, gently encouraging another or showing real or feigned indifference to another, as he thought the situation warranted.

    Roger Neilson
    Roger Neilson's demanding ways prepared young men for NHL careers but also for life. More than 1,400 attended his funeral in Peterborough, Ontario.

    "He had such a tremendous realm of friends and so many people that shared his life with him," Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford said. "It just touches so many areas. He knows so many people and if you are a friend of his, it opens up your world to a whole vast group of other people. He always found a way to make you feel special."

    Neilson coached eight NHL clubs a total of 1,000 games, beginning with the 1977-78 Toronto Maple Leafs and ending with two games behind the bench of the 2001 Ottawa Senators. In between, he coached the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers. He took the Canucks to the 1981 Stanley Cup Finals but never won hockey's Holy Grail, although he was video consultant to the Stanley Cup-winning 1984 Edmonton Oilers.