Roger Neilson’s presence is still held in high regard in Ottawa four years after he died of cancer. There’s a portrait of him in the Senators assistant coach’s box at Scotiabank Place, and another one in the players’ room.
And defenceman Wade Redden still gets goosebumps recalling the inspirational locker-room speech a frail but ever-willing Neilson provided during the 2003 Eastern Conference final that nearly vaulted Ottawa past New Jersey.
“Rog had a big effect. For sure, there’s a lot of things here to remind us,” Redden said, earlier this post-season. “The presence he had and the effect he had, it’s pretty special. … I know he’s here somewhere.”
The Senators certainly need some kind of a boost after falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final against the Anaheim Ducks that resumes at Ottawa on Saturday.
With Ottawa down 3-1 in the 2003 East final against the Devils, Neilson’s speech was credited for inspiring the team to win the next two games before losing Game 7.
The loss devastated many Senators players, including Phillips, who cried at his stall, lamenting how the team squandered an opportunity for itself and Neilson, who had never won a Cup despite coaching 1,000 games.
There has been an understated feeling among the Senators’ veterans that this spring was their chance for redemption.
“We’d certainly like to think that if we could achieve what we’re trying to achieve this year, there’s a few guys in here that were with (Neilson) that would like to think he has a part of that as well,” Phillips said. “I definitely would like to think he’s watching down.”