Big River First Nation
Jim Neilson was one of the first Indigenous superstars in the sport of hockey, playing in the National Hockey League for 16 seasons. Born in Big River, Saskatchewan and raised at an orphanage in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Neilson honed his hockey skills through his youth. At 17 he played Junior A with the Prince Albert Mintos in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He made his professional debut at 19 for the Kitchener-Waterloo Beavers of the Eastern Professional Hockey League, named the league’s top rookie in 1962. That fall he joined the New York Rangers of the NHL for the next 12 seasons. He was named the Rangers top defenseman in 1966 and was runner-up to Bobby Orr for the Norris Trophy (top defenseman) in 1967-68. Neilson and the Rangers lost in the 1972 Stanley Cup Final to Boston in 6 games. In 1974 he was traded to the California Golden Seals, where he was named team captain and Team MVP in 1975-76. Neilson finished his NHL career with the Cleveland Barons for 2 seasons, where he again was the team captain. He was the team nominee for the Bill Masterton Award presented to the player who depicts perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication. His professional career concluded in 1978-79 when he played with the Edmonton Oilers in the World Hockey Association where he was a teammate of 17 year-old Wayne Gretzky. In 1,023 regular season NHL games, Neilson had 69 goals and 299 assists and was named to 4 NHL All Star Teams. Jim Neilson was inducted into the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.