Feb 3, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT
Chris Nilan’s career as an enforcer in the NHL was one that leaves many fans looking back on his career with reverence. After 13 seasons spent mostly with the Montreal Canadiens as well as short stops in Boston and with the Rangers, he racked up 3,043 penalty minutes – a total that puts him ninth all-time in NHL history.
As Nilan shares in his recently released documentary, “The Last Gladiators” [trailer here on YouTube], the life of an enforcer was a tough one (during and after his career) but one that he took seriously while holding true in believing he was more than just a guy who fights.
“I didn’t come into the league thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be a fighter.’ It happened,” Nilan says. “I started playing tough and you end up getting challenged by these junior kids and here I am a college kid. They thought I was a p—y. I got challenged a lot and I started responding to those challenges in a way that got noticed.”
Guys like Nilan are rare these days. Players whose role on a team is dedicated to making sure teammates stay protected are seemingly on their way out with the game being faster and skill being a bigger focus. Nilan knows it’s different now, but still believes tough guys have a role in the modern NHL.
“I don’t think it’s used as a deterrent as it was. I don’t think it’s used as an intimidation factor as it used to be with teams like Philly and Boston,” Nilan says. “I hear everyone complaining about the instigator penalty, which I think is a foolish penalty anyway, but I think guys use that as a reason to not fight.”
“Today it just seems different. Knowing when Max Pacioretty got hit there in Montreal by [Zdeno] Chara no one did anything. I don’t care if it’s Chara and he’s big, that’s the perfect situation when something should’ve happened. I don’t care who you are, it should’ve happened.”
Street justice isn’t the way in the NHL anymore, but it was when Nilan roamed the ice. Guys like Terry O’Reilly, Dave Schultz, Bob Probert, and Tony Twist made stars of themselves in the late 70s and 80s by standing up for themselves and their teams.
The realities of playing that part in hockey are made abundantly clear in “The Last Gladiators” and it’s not glamorous at all. In fact, it’s hard as hell as the sad stories of Probert and Derek Boogaard show. Nilan’s story, as told in the film, nearly turned out similarly. But he found a way out and now he’s sharing that with the world as a motivational speaker and through his film.
When it comes to hockey though, there’s one joy that he’d always take over bringing the crowd to its feet through fisticuffs.
“Fighting for me, although it was difficult, it was easy. Fighting was second nature to me and I enjoyed to fight, but there was nothing like scoring a goal… I could’ve never played the game if I fought and sat the bench the rest of the game. I would’ve never lasted, I couldn’t do that and that’s what drove me so that never happened.”
Mar 26, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Winnipeg grabbed a big win today, too.
Mar 26, 2015, 10:16 PM EDT
A tough win turned into a bitter OT loss.
Mar 26, 2015, 10:13 PM EDT
Will anyone else join them tonight?
Mar 26, 2015, 9:48 PM EDT
The real winners might be the Edmonton Oilers.
Mar 26, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT
Not a great night for Ottawa.
Mar 26, 2015, 8:58 PM EDT
Update your save of the year highlight packages.
Mar 26, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT
He seems OK after that tough, 2-on-1 check.
Mar 26, 2015, 8:41 PM EDT
Three goals allowed in 20 minutes by Detroit’s embattled starter.
Mar 26, 2015, 8:23 PM EDT
The Rangers forward felt encouraged by this latest step.
Mar 26, 2015, 7:03 PM EDT
He’s lining up with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron to start.
Mar 26, 2015, 6:37 PM EDT
A Vladimir Tarasenko hit shook him up on Tuesday.
Mar 26, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Vermont power forward was the club’s third-round pick in 2011.
Mar 26, 2015, 4:56 PM EDT
Featuring Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot and a guest appearance from Curtis Lazar.
Mar 26, 2015, 4:37 PM EDT
The 43-year-old has been a big influence on his young linemates.
Mar 26, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
Granted, they have to make them first.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
Bruce Boudreau continues to “experiment” on defense.
Mar 26, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
“Hopefully we realize that, come together and allow this group to stay together.”
Mar 26, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
An interesting comment from his agent.
Mar 26, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
News and notes from around the crease…
Mar 26, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT
“We are all thinking the same way and going the same direction.”
- Bruins can’t hold Ducks off, suffer sixth loss in a row 12
- Ticket punched: Rangers become first team to clinch 2015 playoff berth 2
- Coyotes ‘win’ against Sabres in OT 20
- Marchand: If Bruins miss playoffs, ‘this is going to be a much different group next year’ 16
- Is Lecavalier offering to retire early to facilitate trade out of Philly? 26
- Hextall insists he’s ‘on the same page’ with Snider 15
- Krejci ‘probable’ to return versus Ducks 10
- Flyers announce Simmonds, MacDonald done for the season with injuries 18
- Video: Flyers crush Blackhawks, Voracek joins league lead in points 11
- Report: Draft Lottery to be held on Apr. 18 14
- Dreger: ‘In Kessel’s case, I firmly believe he’s going to be traded’ (73)
- Red Wings beat Blues in OT, but should winning goal count? (56)
- Tank-worthy? Connor McDavid finishes OHL season with 120 points in 47 games (56)
- Report: No fine or suspension for Tyler Toffoli’s hit on Alex Burrows (51)
- Dubnyk leads Wild past Isles in SO, earns 10th straight road win (44)