________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


Roger's World: The Life and Unusual Times of Roger Neilson.

Wayne Scanlon.
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2004. 336 pp., pbk., $10.99.
ISBN 0-7710-7963-X.

Subject Headings:
Neilson, Roger, 1934-2003.
Hockey coaches-Biography.
Hockey-United States-Biography.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

***½ /4


Once he made the decision to turn his attention to coaching, Neilson swept onto the sandlot scene with the force of a high-grade hurricane.

At age seventeen, he was behind the bench directing a group of youngsters on a sponsored hockey team called Dave's White Rose. The next season he coached a bantam B hockey team called Ideal Welding, the perfect sponsor to represent Neilson's philosophy of a club bonding together to do great things. And it did-Ideal Welding provided Roger with his first minor-hockey championship.

When he was twenty-four, he had his first city league championship team on the ball field, the Sasco Tubes.

Neilson got a kick out of the wacky and varied sponsors he cajoled into supporting his boys of summer and winter. In fact, he was proud to have done his part to put the Bick's Pickles Company on the map.


Roger's World is a biography of Roger Neilson (1934-2003), the colourful hockey (and in his younger days, baseball coach), who was head coach of eight NHL teams and behind the bench for 1000 games. But, it was as a minor league coach that Neilson's record is even more impressive. Between 1951 and 1977, he coached 29 minor hockey and baseball teams, leading a good number of them to championships. His life was both comic and tragic and at all times, highly dramatic.

     Author Wayne Scanlon is a sports reporter with the Ottawa Citizen and has covered the Ottawa Senators for the newspaper since the franchise started. He knows a great deal about the game of hockey, both on the rink and behind the scenes, and clearly understands what is involved in coaching. Roger's World is a fun book written with verve. It is filled with strange anecdotes about Neilson's often bizarre lifestyle and gives a very sympathetic portrait of this hockey legend who received the Order of Canada shortly before he died.

     Neilson loved to compete, and Scanlon makes this obvious. Reading his book, one can almost sense Neilson behind the bench encouraging his players to do their best. Two appendices, Roger Neilson's Season-by-Season NHL Career and Amateur Teams Coached by Roger Neilson, 1951-77, illustrate the unsettled nature of Neilson's career. In spite of his skills as a coach, the teams he coached never won the Stanley Cup. Owners' frustration with their teams never quite becoming champions usually led them to dismiss Neilson mid-way through his contract. As a result, Neilson never lived a life that non-hockey people would consider normal. It can best be described as gypsy-like. Neilson always seemed to be moving to new coaching opportunities, unlike his friend, Scotty Bowman, who stayed with teams for much longer periods. Neilson's defensive style of play did not endear him to owners, and in fairness to them, never resulted in the hockey glory they demanded. Being fired as a coach, in their minds, was little different from any employee being fired for not doing his/her job properly. The reason for this, according to Scanlon was "To use a baseball analogy, which Neilson would favour, he was a relief pitcher called in from the bullpen to settle situations." In order to have a stable career in hockey, Neilson had to be more than that.

     Roger's World is illustrated with functional black and white photographs from Neilson's days as a youth to the end of his coaching career. They are lumped together in two groups and act like the icing on a cake for this very fine book. The forward by Scotty Bowman provides an excellent introduction to Neilson's complex character. Although intended as recreational reading, the book also has an index.

Highly Recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher living in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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