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Neilson's legacy lives on through Roger's House

by Amanda Nigh / Ottawa Senators
Former Senators assistant coach Roger Neilson, who lost his battle with cancer in June 2003, was honoured that the Sens Foundation chose to put his name on Roger's House (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

(As part of tonight's Senators-Canadiens telecast on Sportsnet, the annual Roger's House Telethon will be held to raise funds for the pediatric palliative care facility on the grounds of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Tune in starting at 6:30 p.m. or visit to help this most worthy cause).

Roger Neilson was always a man ahead of his time.

The coach known throughout the hockey world as “Captain Video” famously obsessed over details and popularized the use of game tape as a teaching tool. Off the ice, however, he displayed a much more playful demeanour, along with an incredible ability to connect with people.

Though he never won a Stanley Cup, Neilson touched the lives of many people, both inside and outside the hockey world. When the Ottawa Senators assistant coach lost his lengthy battle with cancer on June 21, 2003, he was mourned as a selfless person who always put the interests of others ahead of his own.

Today, Neilson’s spirit lives on through Roger’s House, a paediatric palliative care facility on the grounds of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It was the Senators and Sens Foundation’s way to link Neilson’s name toward a brighter future.

“Roger was already a hockey icon before he joined our coaching staff,” said Sens Foundation president Danielle Robinson. “He had spent his entire life helping children and youth realize their potential both through hockey and in life, so it was absolutely fitting that we honour his legacy with a healthcare facility dedicated to helping children and youth with life-limiting illnesses. Furthermore, it would have been just as important to Roger to assist patients’ families, enabling those affected by illness to live life to the fullest while surrounded with unconditional support.”

While Neilson didn’t live to see the facility spring to life in 2006, the mental sketch of the Sens Foundation’s plan was far enough along that the club was able to share the idea with him before his death.

“Roger was a very modest man,” said Roger’s House board chair and Senators executive vice-president Erin Crowe. “He was deeply honoured that the Sens Foundation, hockey club and CHEO wanted to honour his legacy, but he was more interested in how the facility would help children and their families who needed support through end-of-life care.”

"Roger was a very modest man. He was deeply honoured that the Sens Foundation, the hockey club and CHEO wanted to honour his legacy, but he was more interested in how the facility would help children and their families who needed support through end-of-life care." - Erin Crowe

That was Neilson, for whom “we” always came before “I.” That approach is a daily way of life at Roger’s House, the Sens Foundation’s charity of choice.

“From what I was told when we were planning Roger’s House and from what I’ve read, Roger was a man of very strong conviction and faith. He lived his life to the fullest, celebrating life and giving back to his community,” said Marion Rattray, manager of palliative care at Roger’s House. “When we are confronted with challenges at the house, sometimes things have a way of resolving themselves and we honestly believe it is due to Roger’s intervention.”

Just as Neilson would have wanted, Roger’s House allows patients to smile, laugh and embrace the small things that mean the most in life.

“Throughout Zoey’s life, we did it all,” Melissa Lumley-Pfeil said of the care her daughter received at Roger’s House. “We were parents, nurses, doctors and specialists rolled into one. Zoey required support 24/7; it was a lot to cope with. At Roger’s House, we could just be her mothers, especially near the end of ZoZo’s life.

Zoey died in 2011 after living with a severe seizure disorder since birth.

“We just held her tight, gave her lots of hugs and kisses, and told her how proud we were of her. Most importantly, we were able to enjoy the final moments with her. For that, we will forever be thankful to Roger Neilson, the staff and volunteers at Roger’s House and the Sens Foundation.”

Foundation events such as the annual Roger’s House Telethon, which airs tonight on Sportsnet beginning at 6:30 p.m., and other community initiatives play a significant role in maintaining the facility’s financial stability and growth, ensuring that Roger’s House will continue to be Neilson’s lasting legacy in the Ottawa community.

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