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.”
Aug 20, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
And assigned to a U.S. District Judge in Minnesota.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
It’s OK Alex, Claude Noel is gone now.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
They hope to improve on their first round loss to the Rangers.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
It’s been a good summer in Dallas.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Yeah, we don’t get it either.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
He’s not going out of his way for it, however.
Aug 19, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
You earn a lot of votes winning a Stanley Cup.
Aug 19, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
He had a down season and worse playoffs last year.
Aug 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Will the Rangers reap the benefits?
Aug 19, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Can the former 15th overall pick establish himself as a full-time NHLer?
Aug 19, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
He was second on the team in goals last season.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
Capology and Corsi gone wild in Toronto.
Aug 19, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT
It’s 105 games long and — perhaps most importantly — starts in just 33 days.
Aug 19, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
Pending NHL Board of Governors approval.
Aug 19, 2014, 1:23 PM EDT
After just one year on the job?
Aug 19, 2014, 12:29 PM EDT
And his agent says NHL teams are now expressing an interest.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
It’s quite the honor to wear the “C” on Broadway.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:35 AM EDT
So much for the trial of the decade.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:57 AM EDT
Former North Dakota star had 25 goals for AHL Hartford last year.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
There are murmurs about a training camp tryout.
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