Roger Neilson began his coaching career with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1966. He coached Peterborough for ten years, had a single season as head coach in the Central Hockey League then began a long NHL coaching career.
Neilson coached in the National Hockey League from 1977 until 2002, although not consecutively. He was the head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators.
Roger died in 2003 at the age of 69 of cancer. Neilson will forever go down in Hockey history as one of the great innovators in the game. What follows are six major changes Roger Neilson brought to the game of hockey.
While coaching the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, Roger realized that in a penalty shot situation, there was nothing in the rulebook that stated a goaltender had to be in the net. The early 1970's were known as the intimidation era in hockey. On more than one occasion, when a penalty shot was called against his team, Roger would substitute a skater for the goaltender. The skater would charge the player taking the penalty shot and take the puck away before the player had time to shoot. The rule was soon changed to state that a goaltender must be in the net.
Also, while coaching in Peterborough, Roger realized that despite how many penalties a team took, they could never play with less than three skaters on the ice. Protecting a lead with two men in the box near the end of the game, Roger would continually put too many men on the ice. Each time, the referee would have to stop play and call the penalty. He would do this every ten seconds until time ran out, thus not letting the opponent score and preserving the victory. The rule was then changed to state that intentionally putting too many men on the ice would result in a penalty shot.
Around the same time, in a situation when his team was behind near the end of the game, Neilson would pull the goaltender so that an extra skater would bolster their offensive chances. Before the fact, Roger would instruct the goalie to leave his stick across the front of the net before leaving the ice. When the opposing team would try and take a long shot at the open net, the puck would hit the stick and go wide. Soon after, the rule was changed to state that this was not allowed to happen.
Not only in hockey, but in all sports, it is now popular to hand out towels to the crowd to wave in unison. This trend was started by none other than Roger Neilson while coaching the Vancouver Canucks. During a playoff game when the referees were calling Vancouver with penalty after penalty, Roger tied a white towel to the end of a hockey stick and began waving it back and forth in mock surrender. He was ejected from the game for his antics but a tradition was born as at the next game, each fan had a white towel and waved them around to create a sea of white.
Neilson was the first to use video playback to analyse games and to scout opponents. He was thought to be crazy at the time but now video is widely used throughout sport.
Before Roger, a typical off-season for an NHL hockey player consisted of golf, drinking beer, eating and generally relaxing. Neilson was the first to introduce off-season training which transformed the NHL's players in the speed and muscle they are today.