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 own.
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."