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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 loved the game of hockey and the people who played it.

    Remembering Roger

    -- continued from page 1 --

    Neilson burst on the NHL scene with the 1977-78 Leafs. They finished third in the Adams Division, but upset the Islanders in the conference semifinals on Lanny McDonald's overtime goal in Game 7. Those Maple Leafs also included Tiger Williams, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Ron Ellis and Mike Palmateer.

    "He was the best coach I had in my professional career," said Sittler, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, like Neilson.

    Neilson had a 460-389-159 record and 11 winning seasons. His record in the Playoffs was 106-51-55. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year and a section of Peterborough's main street was renamed Neilson Drive earlier this year. Neilson was appointed in January to the Order of Canada, the country's highest honor for lifetime achievement.

    Neilson, who had a teaching degree, believed in defense first, especially the neutral-zone trap, to the point where Scotty Bowman blames him for today's lower-scoring games. Bowman gave Neilson his first NHL job, a part-time scouting assignment in 1962.

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

    Roger Neilson: 1934 - 2003

    "I wouldn't be where I am today without Roger," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of operations and a defenseman with Neilson's Peterborough Petes. "He demanded quality and discipline in such a refreshing way that when you came away from a Roger experience you knew you were going to be at your best."

    He forced rule changes at the junior and professional level and once delayed a game by letting his dog, Jock, wander onto the ice. That wasn't the only use he got out of Jock. Neilson used him another time for a forechecking drill. But he had a purpose, he wanted his forecheckers to face more uncertainty, less routine in their paths to the puck carrier. What better than a dog wandering in front of them on slippery ice?

    Craig Ramsey played for and coached with Neilson for over 30 years. He said that he became discouraged during his junior-hockey days and went to Neilson's office to tell him he was quitting. The earnest Ramsey poured out his heart, then looking up for Neilson' s reaction, realized the coach was (maybe) asleep.

    "Let's talk about this tomorrow, " Neilson said on awakening.

    Roger Neilson
    Roger Neilson "always found a way to make you feel special," said Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford.

    "I said, 'Great,' and I ran out the door thinking this guy is a nut but it was the last time I thought about leaving," Ramsey said. "There was always something new with Roger and I'll miss seeing that."

    Neilson was fired by the erratic Harold Ballard in Toronto early in his career and for the last time by Bobby Clarke after he contracted cancer while coaching the 1999-00 Philadelphia Flyers.

    "Heaven is a better place than Philadelphia," a disappointed Neilson said.

    Neilson was then hired as an assistant coach by the Ottawa Senators. Coach Jacques Martin stepped aside to let Neilson coach the last two games of the 2000-01 season, allowing Neilson to coach 1,000 NHL games. The Senators goal this season was to win a Stanley Cup for Neilson, who never quit working.

    "The only good thing about retirement is that I'd be able to get another dog, " Neilson said. "But I think that's about it."