Feb 3, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
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 2, 2015, 2:15 AM EST
It’s a first round and third round selection heading to Philly.
Mar 2, 2015, 1:50 AM EST
Tampa gets a pair of second-rounders.
Mar 2, 2015, 1:20 AM EST
Elliott and Allen saw action Sunday night.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:30 AM EST
Dallas’ skid reaches six games.
Mar 1, 2015, 11:30 PM EST
Winnipeg moves three points back of Chicago in the Central Division.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
Malkin had a third straight three-point game.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
He collided with Ales Hemsky.
Mar 1, 2015, 9:15 PM EST
The Washington forward remains in the game.
Mar 1, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
The Sharks get a fourth-round pick.
Mar 1, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Both teams also swapped draft picks in the deal.
Mar 1, 2015, 7:36 PM EST
Dallas looking to snap a five game skid.
Mar 1, 2015, 7:06 PM EST
He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Mar 1, 2015, 6:45 PM EST
Both are free agents after this season.
Mar 1, 2015, 6:35 PM EST
It started with a Matt Greene hit on Mark Scheifele.
Mar 1, 2015, 6:15 PM EST
The Pens’ captain was unharmed on the play.
Mar 1, 2015, 5:56 PM EST
He’s 14 back of Marcel Dionne.
Mar 1, 2015, 4:20 PM EST
All the blockbuster details have been updated.
Mar 1, 2015, 3:38 PM EST
Sunday’s expected starting goalies.
Mar 1, 2015, 3:02 PM EST
Could Philly move him by Monday?
Mar 1, 2015, 2:22 PM EST
The Islanders winger was February’s best first-year player.
- Trade: Rangers land Yandle, Coyotes receive Duclair, first-rounder 65
- Trade: Capitals land Glencross, Flames get two picks 23
- Flames place Giordano on IR 5
- Flyers keep faint playoff hopes alive with win over Rangers 28
- Trade: Blackhawks acquire Vermette from Arizona for Dahlbeck, first rounder 74
- Jagr earns high praise in his Panthers debut 1
- Bruins maintain four-point edge in playoff race, hand Coyotes ninth straight loss 5
- NHL on NBC: Rangers look for a fourth straight win against the Flyers 7
- Ducks score four third-period goals, come back to beat rival Kings 9
- Blackhawks aren’t done talking trades, will look to add another forward 13
- Wild beat Avs, dying seconds fight set stage for rematch (149)
- Petrovic: Chicago will ‘probably seek revenge’ for Kane injury tonight (82)
- Trade: Blackhawks acquire Vermette from Arizona for Dahlbeck, first rounder (74)
- Report: Alex Petrovic avoids discipline after injuring Patrick Kane (69)
- Trading baggage: Blue Jackets grab Clarkson, send Horton’s contract to Leafs (66)