He will always have a special place in the hearts of the hockey coaching fraternity.
So it is almost fitting, then, that the National Hockey League Coaches’ Association has chosen to hold its first major charity function in the city in which Roger Neilson’s name continues to make a difference every day.
The inaugural NHL Scotiabank Dinner Behind The Bench presented by the Ottawa Citizen
is set for June 18 at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. It is the first of a series of events affiliated with the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and one that coaches around the league figure to embrace in a major way.
Jeff McCreary, the NHL Coaches’ Association’s executive director, said Neilson’s connection with the Senators and the city of Ottawa offers the perfect backdrop for the first of what the group hopes will be an annual event. Roger’s House has been chosen as the charity of choice for this year’s dinner.
“To be able to get an affiliation with something that honoured Roger made a lot of sense,” said McCreary. “Roger was beloved by the coaches. He touched a lot of coaches and he developed a lot of coaches, and he gave back to the community as well.”
Neilson, a former Senators assistant coach, passed away on June 21, 2003 – NHL draft day that year – after a long-term battle with two forms of cancer. Roger’s House, located on the grounds of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, has had more than 400 admissions since opening its doors in May 2006. It provides a comprehensive pediatric respite and palliative care program with elements of outreach, residential hospice, pain and symptom management, grief and bereavement counselling and research.
McCreary said the coaches’ association is hoping to raise more than $50,000 for Roger’s House through title sponsor Scotiabank, presenting sponsor (the Citizen
), a live auction of hockey memorabilia and tickets sold to 350 guests. He added the Sens Foundation has been a vital part of the team putting the dinner together.
“We hoped to have a great partner with an obvious connection (to the charity),” said McCreary. “The good thing here is that the Sens Foundation really acts as the fundraising arm for Roger’s House.
“They’ve been an unbelievable (help) to me. They’re great people … They’ve been the arms and legs of pulling it together. They really deserve the bulk of the credit for it.”
Los Angeles Kings head coach Marc Crawford will be the featured speaker at the dinner. Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman has been chosen to introduce a tribute video to Neilson. Comedian and magician André Harris will provide entertainment during the evening.
“We’re going to make it fun,” said McCreary. “We’ll do it up right and make it very first class.”
Most of all, they’ll toast a one-of-kind coach whose legacy will live forever in Ottawa.
“Definitely, Roger’s affiliation was a home run for us,” said McCreary, adding the coaches’ association couldn’t be happier to begin its new tradition with “such a great, great hockey connection, especially to a guy who was as colourful and energetic as Roger was.”
An NHL jersey raffle, with autographed jerseys from every NHL team, is planned as a ramp-up activity to the event. All the items and details will be an announced at a later date and listed at www.sensfoundation.com