A Gentleman Passes ROGER NEILSON/1934-2003 - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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A Gentleman Passes ROGER NEILSON/1934-2003

Died after a long battle with cancer, Roger Neilson, 69, Senators
assistant coach and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Even in
dying, Neilson--an innovator in the use of video as a teaching
tool, the coach of eight NHL teams who went 460-381-159 and one
of the great gentlemen of sports--was considerate. He died at his
home in Peterborough, Ont., last Saturday, which allowed his
close friends, basically the entire hockey community, to mourn
him en masse at the NHL draft in Nashville. When commissioner
Gary Bettman announced Neilson's passing, there was a moment of
silence from men who had come to work in the sober business
attire that was never Neilson's style. He preferred a
russet-colored Abercrombie & Fitch baseball cap and blindingly
florid five-dollar ties. In the early '80s, when he was an
assistant to Scotty Bowman in Buffalo and did the pioneering
videotape work that earned him the nickname Captain Video,
Neilson was told he needed a tie to enter the swank Aud club. So,
he arrived at the club wearing a tie and accompanied by his
beloved dog, Mike, who swept in with him--wearing a tie of his

Neilson, a man of deep Christian faith, was a lifelong bachelor
with a passionate allegiance to hockey. He schooled many current
coaches at his clinics, and he was the midwife of the modern
neutral-zone trap, a tactic he implemented in 1990-91 with the
expansion Panthers. Last year Ottawa's Jacques Martin stepped
aside for two games, allowing Neilson to coach his 999th and
1,000th NHL games, a statistical shenanigan that drew hardly a
protest because it was the beloved Neilson running the bench.
When he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in '99, two
oncologists said he had five years to live. The ever-optimistic
Neilson told friends, "One gave me five years and another gave me
five. That means I have 10 years left." --Michael Farber

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (NEILSON) ALWAYS THE TEACHER As Panthers coach, Neilson schooled playerson the trap.