Abbotsford Sculptor Immortalizes Canucks Coach Roger Neilson

April 07th, 2011

Vancouver — April 7, 2011. Abbotsford sculptor Norm Williams figures it was his passion for hockey that lead the Vancouver Canucks to choose him to create a bronze sculpture of legendary NHL coach Roger Neilson. The larger than life sculpture is located outside of Gate 3 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and was unveiled on April 7, 2011, as part of the team’s 40th anniversary celebrations. The sculpture of Roger stands 12 feet tall from his feet to the top of the extended hockey stick. It weighs approximately 750 pounds.

“The thrill of getting the opportunity to be a part of Canucks history by making this sculpture is beyond compare,” says sculptor Norm Williams. “I would love to see this memory of Roger help galvanize the team and the fans like it did in 1982, and spur the Canucks on to victory in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals!”

The sculpture depicts Neilson waving a towel at the end of a hockey stick. It captures the moment during a 1982 playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks, when Neilson felt his team was continually and unfairly penalized during the third period. He took a trainer’s white towel and held it on a hockey stick, as if to wave a white flag. By doing this, Neilson inadvertently started an NHL tradition. It is a playoff tradition that continues to this day and is widely copied by other sports teams around the world.

Norm was one of several sculptors initially considered for the project. He knew his competition would be steep, so he had to find a way to stand out beyond the quality of his work.

He focused on the fact that he was a local boy with a deep passion for hockey, and made the case that such a piece would require someone with a lot of hockey knowledge. “My edge was my understanding of hockey. Serious hockey fans care about the details. If something about the subject’s expression or movement doesn’t ring true, then they are not going to like it.”67 year-old Williams is a Canucks fan of long-standing and began following the team before they entered the NHL.

Ever the perfectionist, Norm went to great lengths to get all the details right. He knew it was player Jim Nill’s hockey stick that Neilson waved that day and with the help of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, he was able to get Nill’s stick from a Delta collector and copy it exactly. Nill’s name and number are cast on the hockey stick, high on the sculpture.
“You would be surprised at how little good photography there is of Neilson from the early 1980s. There are either posed photos where he’s looking straight at the camera and smiling, or action shots that are quite grainy,” explains Norm. “In 1982 I was watching that game of course, and I remember the moment when he waved the towel and how he looked. His facial expression was one of exasperated defiance. Really it was a polite middle finger to the officials, and they took it that way by ejecting him from the game.”

Norm was stymied for a moment when it came to Neilson’s foot wear. He looked at every shot and videotape that he could find, but nothing showed Roger’s shoes because so often he was behind the bench, and grainy video didn’t focus on Neilson’s feet. “He wasn’t exactly a fashion-forward dresser, so I figured he was a Hush Puppies kind of guy rather that a Gucci type,” explains Norm.

A friend who has some old clothes packed away from the early 80’s was able to provide the casual shoes that Norm had in mind. To get a sense of how an inexpensive blazer would hang and move, Norm bought one at Value Village and had another family friend of similar build to Neilson’s pose for him.

He began work on the sculpture in July 2010 and completed the plaster version of it at the beginning of January 2011. At that point it was shipped to the IN BRONZE foundry in Langley, BC where it was cast in bronze.

“The sculpture is a success to me if it works on three levels, says Norm. “It must work as an artistic piece with good composition, flow and integrity. It should be a point of interest to visitors who want to interact with the sculpture and have their picture taken with it. Finally, it needs to be a historically accurate piece that pleases hockey experts and die-hard fans.”

Norm studied under well know sculptors Bill Reid, Bill Koochin and Leonard Epp. He completed a four year Sculpture Major at Emily Carr College of Art & Design, and graduated with a Double Fine Arts Major from the University of British Columbia.

The focus of Norm’s sculpture is realism that portrays nature or historical events. Norm’s studio is in a barn on his Abbotsford property.

Norm has worked in private collections throughout North America, as well as England, Germany, Japan and China. Previous public pieces include, a bronze grouping at Steveston, BC. It was commissioned in  2009 to pay tribute to the area’s commercial fishing industry. Two other public commissions are in Abbotsford. He is currently working on a smaller piece for Terra Nova Park in Richmond, BC.

For more information on Norm Williams and his work, visit:

Norm Williams or Sharlene Williams
Tel: 604-856-8167

The Making of Roger

April 07th, 2011

This video shows the making of the Neilson sculpture, from the bamboo frame made at Norm’s studio, to the cast bronze sculpture at the foundry.

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February 21st, 2011

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