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"NEA" 2003 Obituary


NEALE o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-06-23 published
Hockey coach who changed the game
'Captain Video' introduced new teaching tools in more than 25 years with the National Hockey League
By William HOUSTON Monday, June 23, 2003 - Page R5
The morning after Roger NEILSON was fired from his first of seven head coaching jobs in the National Hockey League, he returned to his office at Maple Leaf Gardens.
He viewed and edited the videotape of the Toronto Maple Leafs' loss to the Montreal Canadiens the night before. When a replacement didn't show up, he put the Leafs through a practice. Later, he was asked by a reporter why he was still hanging around.
"Somebody had to run the practice," he said. "Whoever comes in will have to look at the tapes."
The next day, Mr. NEILSON was reinstated when the club could not find a replacement, but Maple Leafs owner Harold BALLARD, always looking for publicity, wanted to make his return behind the bench a surprise. Mr. BALLARD tried to talk him into wearing a ski mask or bag over his head, and then dramatically throwing it off at the start of the game. Numbed by the three-day ordeal of not knowing his status in the organization, Mr. NEILSON almost agreed, but ultimately declined.
"He hated that story," said Jim GREGORY, who hired Mr. NEILSON to coach the Leafs in 1977 and was fired along with the coach at the end of the 1978-79 season. "I hated that story."
The incident reflected poorly on Mr. BALLARD, but in a smaller way it helped create the image of Mr. NEILSON we have today, that of a coach who put the team ahead of his ego, who was loyal to his players and dedicated to his job.
Mr. NEILSON, who died Saturday after a long battle with cancer, will be remembered not just as a man who loved hockey, but also as a skilled strategist and innovator. He stressed defensive play and systems, and also physical fitness. In Toronto, he was given the nickname "Captain Video," because he was among the first to use videotape to instruct his players and prepare for games.
When Mr. NEILSON, a soft-spoken man famous for his dry sense of humour, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, he was asked about the late, controversial Leafs owner.
"I'm sure he's looking up rather than down," he said, with a smile, before saying Mr. BALLARD did some "good things for hockey."
Mr. NEILSON was also named to the Order of Canada in January.
Roger Paul NEILSON was born in Toronto on June 16, 1934, and went as far as Junior B hockey as a player. While earning a degree at McMaster University in Hamilton, he started coaching kids baseball and hockey.
After graduating, he taught high school in Toronto and his passion by then was coaching. In hockey, he won Toronto and provincial titles at different levels. In 10 years, his Metro Toronto midget baseball teams won nine championships, once defeating a team that included pitcher Ken DRYDEN, who would later become a Hall of Fame goaltender with the Montreal Canadiens.
Mr. NEILSON scouted for the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League before moving to Peterborough in 1966 to coach the team. During his 10 years behind the bench, the Petes never finished below third place and won the league championship once.
By the time Mr. NEILSON moved to the National Hockey League to coach the Leafs in 1977, his reputation for creativity and also mischief was firmly established. In baseball, he used, at least once, a routine involving a peeled apple, in which the catcher threw what appeared to be the ball wildly over the third baseman, prompting the runner to race home. As the apple lay in the outfield, the catcher met the runner at home plate with the real baseball in his glove.
Always looking for a loophole in the rules, Mr. NEILSON's ploys instigated rule changes in hockey. On penalty shots against his team, he used Ron STACKHOUSE, a big defenceman, instead of a goalie. Mr. STACKHOUSE would charge out of the net and cause the shooter to flub his shot. The rule was subsequently changed to require the goalie to stay in his crease.
Over an National Hockey League career that lasted more than 25 years, Mr. NEILSON holds the record for most teams coached (seven.) He also held four assistant coaching positions. But he never won the Stanley Cup. He didn't coach great teams. He seemed to enjoy the challenge of taking an average group of players, making them into a solid, defensive unit, and seeing them succeed.
In his first year with the Leafs, he moulded a previously undisciplined group of players into a strong unit that upset the New York Islanders in the 1978 playoffs.
In 1982, Mr. NEILSON's playoff success with the Vancouver Canucks underscored his skill as a tactician and manipulator.
When Canuck head coach Harry NEALE was suspended late in the season, Mr. NEILSON, his assistant, took over. The Canucks weren't expected to advance past the first round of the playoffs. But backed by strong goaltending from Richard BRODEUR, they defeated the Calgary Flames and then the Los Angeles Kings to advance to the semi-finals against Chicago.
The Canucks won the first game, but with Chicago leading 4-1 late in the second game, Mr. NEILSON, unhappy with the officiating, waved a white towel from the bench, as if to surrender to the referee. He was fined for the demonstration, but the white towel became a symbol of home-fan solidarity. In the Stanley Cup final, the Canucks were swept by the powerhouse Islanders.
In addition to Toronto and Vancouver, Mr. NEILSON's journey through the National Hockey League consisted of head coaching jobs with the Buffalo Sabres, the Kings, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers. He worked as a co-coach in Chicago, and as an assistant coach with the Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators.
Ottawa, where he was hired in 2000, was his final destination. In the 2001-02 season, head coach Jacques MARTIN stepped down for the final two games of the regular season to allow Mr. NEILSON to coach his 1,000th regular-season game.
Frank ORR, who covered hockey for The Toronto Star for more than 30 years, said, in 2002, "Roger is one of the few people I've met in any line of work who never had a bad word to say about anybody."

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NEALE o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-06-23 published
A remarkable life, and a friend to all
By Eric DUHATSCHEK Monday, June 23, 2003 - Page S1
Nashville -- Roger NEILSON's legacy in hockey will endure because he coached 1,000 games among eight National Hockey League teams, because he was an innovator and because he served as a mentor and a tutor to others during a Hall of Fame career.
But the contributions of NEILSON, who died Saturday in Peterborough, Ontario, at 69 after a lengthy battle with cancer, contain a vibrancy matched by few others because of the countless Friendships he developed during his lifetime.
The proof of that came in June of last year when a dozen of his closest Friends organized a tribute to NEILSON. It was held in Toronto, a day before the National Hockey League awards dinner, to make it easier for people to attend, which they did. More than 1,300 people were there.
NEILSON was responsible for helping several players and coaches get to the National Hockey League, including Bob GAINEY, Craig RAMSAY and Colin CAMPBELL, players on the Peterborough Petes junior team that NEILSON coached in the 1970s.
Among those who benefited from NEILSON's guidance was Florida Panthers coach Mike KEENAN. Scotty BAUMAN/BOWMAN, the Hall of Fame coach, recalled Saturday how NEILSON talked him into hiring KEENAN, who had also coached the Petes, into running the Buffalo Sabres' minor-league affiliate in Rochester, New York in the early 1980s.
"Roger didn't have any enemies," KEENAN said. "He lived his life in a principled way. He had a great deal of respect for people and found goodness in all of them. He was very unique and all of us were blessed to know him.
"I'm saddened by his passing, but to me, this is a life to be celebrated, a life that was so influential to many of us."
NEILSON had an endless fascination with the rulebook that forced the powers in whatever league he happened to be coaching in to revise and clarify each loophole he probed. For a penalty shot, he would put a defenceman in the crease instead of a goaltender, instructing the defenceman to rush the shooter as soon as the latter crossed the blueline, to hurry him into a mistake.
Once, when his team was already two players short with less than two minutes remaining in the game, NEILSON kept sending players over the boards, getting penalties for delaying the game. The strategy worked, taking time off the clock and upsetting the other team's flow. At that stage of the game, it didn't matter how many penalties NEILSON's team was taking. If a coach tried that tactic today, the opposition would be awarded a penalty shot.
NEILSON, whose last job was as an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators, coached his 1,000th National Hockey League game on the final night of the 2001-02 regular season, temporarily filling in for Senators head coach Jacques MARTIN. NEILSON was involved with a dozen National Hockey League teams in a series of different capacities, including his eight different turns as a head coach. In 1982, he took the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup final, his one and only appearance in the championship series as a coach. The Canucks were swept by the New York Islanders.
It was during that playoff run that NEILSON placed a white towel on the end of a stick, a mock surrender to the on-ice officials.
In 1999, NEILSON was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of bone cancer, and needed a bone marrow transplant. He also developed skin cancer, the result of a lifetime of being outdoors, in the sun, usually in raggedy old shorts and T-shirts, with a well-worn baseball cap perched on his head.
"He put in an incredible, inspiring fight with an insidious disease," said KEENAN, who added that NEILSON kept in constant contact with his mother Thelma, after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"They found strength in each other. That's the type of individual Roger was. He'd reach out and touch somebody who needed help. He was deathly in pain the last few times we spoke, but he would not let it influence his life."
The high regard for NEILSON was clear during the tribute for him last year. Former coach and Hockey Night in Canada analyst Harry NEALE, who worked with NEILSON in Vancouver, was the master of ceremonies. But he was so overcome by emotion so many times that he let his good friend Roger steal the show.
NEILSON's self-deprecating sense of humor surfaced when he scanned the crowd and suggested that everyone he'd ever said hello to in his lifetime had turned up for the event. He quipped that at $125 a ticket, it must be an National Hockey League production. What other organization would set the price so outrageously high?
NEILSON's health was deteriorating this spring, but he managed to accompany the Senators on the road for their second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Senators pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the New Jersey Devils, to seven games in the Eastern Conference final before being eliminated.
NEILSON's speech to the team before Game 6, with the Senators trailing 3-1 in the series, was cited by the players and the coaching staff as the inspiration for their comeback against the Devils.
"The only sad part is we weren't able to win a Stanley Cup for him this year," Martin said.
With his health failing, NEILSON asked BAUMAN/BOWMAN to be the keynote speaker at his annual coaching clinic in Windsor earlier this month.
"I talked to him only a week ago," BAUMAN/BOWMAN said. "I said, 'The coaches in the National Hockey League are getting blamed a lot for the [defensive] style that teams are playing.' I said, 'You should blame Roger NEILSON because he's the one training all these coaches.'
"Roger was a special person. The people that follow hockey know what he went through. I truly think he battled it right to the end and it was hockey that probably kept Roger going."
Remembering Roger NEILSON
"The coaches in the National Hockey League have been getting blamed a lot for the style of game the teams are playing. I said, 'You should blame Roger NEILSON because he's training all these coaches.' "He battled right to the end. Hockey and life for Roger were intertwined. That probably kept him going to the end. He never got married. He was married to hockey."
"All the awards he won this year tell you about his hockey career's innovativeness and what kind of person he is. Some people are going to remember Roger for nothing to do with hockey just because of what a humanitarian he is. He put up an unbelievable battle. From when he found out how sick he was, if had happened to most people, they would have had their demise many months ago. He fought hard."
"I know I haven't met a person who could equal Roger's passion for hockey. The honours bestowed on him in the past year, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Order of Canada, did not come by accident. He has done so much for so many kids and I will always remember that legacy."
"He's an individual we can all be inspired by, by his ability to deal with some difficult situations in his own life. He has such a high level of respect for human beings. "He was fortunate in way he lived his life. It was impacted by his faith and his religion. He observed those principles on a daily basis, things most of us have a hard time dealing with. He saw the goodness in everyone else."
"He did a lot of work at the grassroots level with his hockey camps, coaches' clinics, his baseball teams, his summer programs. He wasn't really in it for himself very much. "It's a word you use too often to make it special but in his case he was unique, he really was."
"Hockey has lost a great mind, a great spirit, a great friend. The National Hockey League family mourns his loss but celebrates his legacy -- the generations of players he counselled, the coaches he moulded, the changes his imagination inspired and the millions of fans he entertained."
Life and times
Born: June 16, 1934, in Toronto.
Education: Roger NEILSON graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton with a degree in physical education.
Nickname: Captain Video because he was the first to analyze game videos to pick apart opponents' weaknesses.
Coaching career: NEILSON coached hockey teams for 50 years. He was a National Hockey League coach for Toronto, Buffalo, Vancouver, Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, Florida, Philadelphia and Ottawa. The Senators let him coach a game on April 13, 2002, so he could reach 1,000 for his career. He was an National Hockey League assistant in Buffalo, Chicago, St. Louis and Ottawa.
Major Honours: Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders category last year. Invested into the Order of Canada in May.
Tributes: ESPN Classic Canada will air a 24-hour tribute to NEILSON beginning today at 6 p.m. eastern daylight time. The programming will include a profile, footage from the famous white towel game during the 1982 Stanley Cup playoffs and his 1,000th game behind the bench.
Funeral: Services for NEILSON will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday at North View Pentecostal Church in Peterborough, Ontario (705-748-4573). The church is at the corner of Fairbairn Street and Tower Hill Road.

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NEARY o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-03-12 published
By Declan NEARY Wednesday, March 12, 2003 - Page A24
Father, friend, raconteur. Born August 22, 1949, in Taylorstown, County Amtrim, Northern Ireland. Died October 4, 2002, in Toronto, of heart failure, aged 53.
Like the late Fred Rogers of television's Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, John DICKSON/DIXON was a gentle, sweet-tempered, softly spoken, unassuming man. He was also blessed with a wonderful and, at times, mischievous sense of humour. Besides rugby and music, he loved poetry and had learned a vast repertoire of poems by heart. The Highwayman and The Cremation of Sam McGee were among his favourite party pieces.
John was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. About Ulster's great religious divide, he liked to joke, "Ma and Da made a huge contribution to our wee town. They had 14 of us, and we weren't even Catholic."
"At home, John was known as The Quiet Man, " said younger brother Robert. "He was a good listener, but also loved to chat and tell stories."
As a qualified electrician, John went to London in 1969 to work for Harrods. In the summer of 1970, he telephoned his brother Brian in Toronto to say he was coming to Canada. When Brian asked for an approximate arrival date, John replied, "Oh, tomorrow."
From the day he set foot in Toronto, John was a tireless member on and off the field of the Irish Canadian Rugby Club. He played wing forward, mostly for the second team, and was willing to have a go in any position on any of the club's three teams. He was club president in 1992-94; since 1997 he was manager of a team, attending twice-weekly training sessions and every game, his Canon camera often dangling from his neck.
John also enjoyed a long playing career with The Leps (The Leprechauns) Irish Canadian Rugby Club's over-35 team. During a rugby tour to the British Virgin Islands in 1987, he was one of seven Leps who endured a harrowing night aboard a rudderless yacht as it was tossed about in rough weather in Drake's Channel. I was on board to witness John's quick reactions to protect his fellow Leps from serious injury or a worse fate.
John married Gloria-Jean TARASCO in 1972. They had a daughter, Amy, now a law student at the University of Western Ontario.
"When I was a child, Dad cooked my meals, read me bedtime stories, and made sure I'd memorized all his favourite poems, song lyrics, and scripture verses, " said Amy. "After my parents divorced when I was 13, all of the time I spent with my father was one-on-one. We were truly great Friends."
John loved living in the Beaches area of Toronto and indulged his passion for running along the boardwalk every day. Once, on the porch of his home, John handed his visiting Irish nephews, Stuart, 15, and Derek, 13, a fat cigar and bottle of Carlsberg each. When the boys' parents saw the carry-on, John said, "Relax, we're just warming up before we head off to Jilly's, " a nearby club featuring female ecdysiasts.
John had a 28-year career as a technician, and manager with Bell Canada.
Shortly after leaving Bell in 2000, John was strolling along Queen Street East and noticed that many of the buildings needed sprucing up. A week later, typical of his sense of spontaneity, he opened a power-wash business, kicking it off by going door-to-door, handing out flyers to potential customers. The business did well.
John always appeared to be in robust health, and his sudden passing from heart failure was a tremendous shock to family and Friends. At his memorial service, many people spoke warmly about this all-round decent man with a mellow voice. His brother George said succinctly, "John came to Canada by himself. He made many Friends."
Sadly, he left us much too soon.
Declan NEARY is a friend of John DICKSON/DIXON.

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