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The expression never changes.

He sits, staring out at the game that has been his life, and gives no hint what he is thinking, though the long record will show that he has been one of the game's best thinkers, if not the most innovative of all time.

The only thing that can be said with any certainty about Roger Neilson is that he is not thinking about himself.

As he might say in his marvellously dry, self-deprecating manner, that's a chore for others -- if they insist on doing it.

For three years now, the others have been at their job almost daily, at times worried, at times ecstatic, and every once in a while, alas, a tad overwhelming in their interest.

On a night like this, with the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators swirling on the ice far below Neilson's familiar perch as assistant coach to the Senators, his manner -- baseball cap cocked on his head, eyes riveted to the play, pencil jotting random thoughts -- rather pointedly suggests he'd prefer people get on with their lives so he can on with his.

It is no secret that the 68-year-old Neilson suffers from cancer. Keeping such serious matters private, as almost everyone would personally prefer, is rarely an option for those in the public eye. And few, in any field, operate more openly than National Hockey League coaches, whose daily work is watched by an average of 16,000 live fans and whose results are measured by many thousands more who might not be there but are watching all the same.

Neilson's cancer first emerged in Philadelphia, the most intrusive of all American cities, and his treatment for multiple myeloma -- the devastating chemotherapy, the successful stem-cell transplant -- was part of the daily fare of the talk shows.

Sport sometimes lacks all subtlety. It might be possible for a well-known Toronto broadcaster to suffer from leukemia and successfully request silence, but not in a world where child's games are considered "do-or-die" situations and where those who do not understand the power of words will refer to a troublesome player as a "cancer" in the dressing room.

In Philadelphia, merely having cancer, even successfully battling it, cost Neilson his job. He came back from treatment to find he was no longer coach of the Flyers, came back to find his boss, general manager Bob Clarke, rationalizing the move by suggesting the cancer had made Neilson go "goofy" and, anyway, "We didn't ask Roger to get cancer."

Neilson is a man of astonishing grace and good will. He never complained. He just did what tens of thousands of fellow cancer fighters do: took faith wherever it is found, went back to work when he could, and carried on with life. A secondary cancer showed up, this time malignant melanoma, and he fought that back as well as he took up a new job as assistant coach to the Ottawa Senators.

The man they call Captain Video has been good for the Senators and they, in turn, have been good to him, at one point letting him take over the head-coaching job so he could reach the 1,000-game mark in his long NHL coaching career.

He has also provided the team, as he does everywhere he goes, with dozens of Roger Neilson stories, mostly involving his professorial absent-mindedness and legendary driving problems.

While in Ottawa this fall he also was given his due by being named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, which gave a delicious opportunity for more "Roger" stories to pour out: Neilson using his dog to teach junior players to forecheck, Neilson sending in a defenceman to replace the goalie during a penalty shot, Neilson refusing -- with his usual dignity -- to wear a paper bag over his head as a publicity gimmick ordered up by nutty former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard.

The Hall appointment had nothing to do with sympathy and everything to do with justice, and he accepted with his invariable good humour, poking fun at Ballard, the Leafs and, of course, himself.

The cancer returned and most knew he was again under treatment, but no one said a word until a weekend report in the New York Post stated that it was back, and had spread. He himself was too busy with other things to waste valuable time talking about it.

He left it, instead, to his close friend, Roy Mlakar, the Senators president, who simply said, "After a time, you have valleys and you come back. He's doing well.

"He hasn't missed a day of work."

Neilson, of course, would like nothing better or more to be said. "Anybody," he once said, "can get this." And everybody knows someone who has.

"The last thing you want," he added, "is people feeling sorry for you."

So don't.

Turn instead back to the game.

And let a busy man get on with his work.