Flyers coach Craig Berube played for Neilson for two seasons and still holds dear a congratulatory note Neilson sent him after Berube played his 1,000th game. Neilson was battling cancer when he sent it. Berube was with Calgary nearing the end of his playing career.
Neilson was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1999 while he was coaching Berube and the Flyers. He was replaced by Craig Ramsay in the spring of 2000 shortly before the team's run to the Eastern Conference finals, which ended when New Jersey's Scott Stevens knocked out Eric Lindros.
Flyers general manager Bob Clarke was criticized at the time for coldly dismissing Neilson, but Berube said, "It was the right thing to do."
"I felt for [Roger] because he wanted to coach his team," Berube said. "But at the time, with his health, it was probably best that he wasn't behind the bench."
Neilson passed away in 2003. His battle with the disease was a dark cloud over hockey, but it didn't prevent him from reaching out when Berube achieved his milestone.
"He was the kind of coach you'd want to play for for a long time," Berube said. "He was a professional coach. He didn't talk to his players a whole lot, but he knew exactly what was going on. He basically told you what your job was and that's it. You went and did it. There were no surprises with him."