Rangers great Jim Neilson passes away

Long-time NHL defenceman Jim Neilson has passed away. PHOTO BY PAUL BERESWILL /Paul Bereswill

Long-time NHL defenceman Jim Neilson has passed away. PHOTO BY PAUL BERESWILL /Paul Bereswill

Lance Hornby Toronto Sun

Jim Neilson, one of the best Indigenous players in NHL history and ranked in the top 50 greatest New York Rangers, has died.

The NHL Alumni posted the passing of the defenceman on Friday.

Neilson during his Syracuse days.

Neilson during his Syracuse days.

Raised partly in a Saskatchewan orphanage, Neilson played 12 seasons for the Rangers, was usually high in Norris Trophy voting in the 1960s, and was a second team NHL all-star in ’67-68. The next season, he had a career-high 44 points in 76 games. Traded to the California Golden Seals, he was on their last team before they became the Cleveland Barons, then was on the Barons’ final entry before they merged with the Minnesota North Stars. He ended as Wayne Gretzky’s teammate on the last WHA Edmonton Oilers in 1978-79.

After more than 1,000 games, he was named to the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall Of Fame and the Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame.

“He was respected. He was class. He was a big boy; a good athlete,” Fred Sasakamoose, the NHL‘s first treaty Indigenous player and former Sunday Feature, said Friday of his friend in an interview with Postmedia’s Kevin Mitchell.

“I respected him because of the way he handled himself. He was really a gentleman. It’s difficult sometimes when you’re on that ice — you’re just like a tiger. He was a strong man, raw-boned, and he looked after himself real good in the NHL, with no difficulty. That’s the kind of person he was. He trained hard, and that’s why he stayed there for so long.”

Sasakamoose noted to Mitchell that he and Neilson come from the same geographic area — rural northern Saskatchewan — and both had different upbringings than their pro-hockey peers. Sasakamoose grew up in a residential school, and Neilson at St. Patrick’s orphanage.

Sasakamoose played 13 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54; Neilson, seven years younger, came along later and carved out a long and storied career.

Fred Sasakamoose. Court artist's rendering.

Fred Sasakamoose. Court artist’s rendering.

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Long-time NHL player Jim Neilson, shown in December 2018, has passed away. PHOTO BY LIAM RICHARDS /Postmedia Network

ICE CHIPS

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who will be 36 when his contract is up with Washington next season, has expressed a wish to end his career back home with Moscow Dynamo whenever he’s done in the NHL … The Florida Panthers signed defenceman MacKenzie Weegar to a three-year contract with an AAV of $3.25 million US on Friday, heading off a Sunday arbitration hearing … The Rangers and left winger Brendan Lemieux reached a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.55 million on Friday, just before their scheduled arbitration … The Oilers and defensive defenceman William Lagesson have agreed to a two-year deal, with the second season on the higher one-way ticket of $725,000. The 24-year-old remains playing in Europe for now.