James Anthony "Chief" Neilson - Born November 28, 1941 in Big River, Saskatchewan - Died November 6, 2020 in Winnipeg, Manitoba was a Canadian / Indigenous (Cree) ice Hockey defenceman.
Neilson was a mix of Danish and Cree and grew up in the St. Patrick’s Orphanage / Residential School where he was educated and played Hockey. He excelled for three years with the Prince Albert Mintos of the SJHL where he registered consecutive 20-goal seasons in 1960 and 1961. The New York Rangers prospect enjoyed a solid first pro season in the EPHL with the Kitchener-Waterloo Beavers in 1961-62.
Neilson made his NHL debut with Rangers on October 11, 1962 vs Detroit Red Wings in a 2-1 Detroit win at Madison Square Garden.
Neilson scored his 1st NHL goal vs Eddie Johnston of the Boston Bruins on November 22, 1962 at 18:15 of the 3rd period at Boston Garden in a 7-1 Rangers win.
Neilson looked solid as a rookie paired with Doug Harvey in 1962-63 and became a fixture on the New York defence for a dozen seasons. In 1967-68 he played superior defence and scored 35 points. "Chief" scored a career-high ten goals and 44 points the next year then helped the Blueshirts become one of the league's elite clubs. In 1968-69, he was paired with rookie Brad Park and was credited with making a huge difference in the youngster's game.
The only down side for Neilson during this period was a serious knee injury in February 1970, which prevented him from making sharp turns the rest of his career. Beginning in 1970-71 the Rangers recorded three straight 100-point seasons and reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1972. They also reached the semi-finals in 1973 before rebuilding in mid-decade.
In June 1974, the Rangers left the veteran blueliner unprotected at the Intra-League Draft. Neilson was claimed by the weak California Golden Seals and he became a stabilizing influence on the club playing mostly with youngster Rick Hampton. He played two years on the West Coast and remained with the franchise during its two-year stay in Cleveland. Neilson retired in 1979 after playing a year in the WHA with Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.
Neilson played 1,024 NHL regular season games, scoring 69 goals, 299 assists and 65 NHL playoff games, scoring 1 goal, 17 assists.
Neilson played in the NHL All-Star Games in 1967, and 1971.
In 2009, Neilson was ranked No. 42 on the all-time list of New York Rangers in the book 100 Ranger Greats (John Wiley & Sons).
Jim Neilson was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
The Big River First Nation is building the Jim Neilson Sports Complex.