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.”
Jan 27, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Appeared in 1,260 games.
Jan 27, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
Tampa has won both meetings between the two clubs this season.
Jan 27, 2015, 5:41 PM EST
7:30 p.m. ET, from PNC Arena, on NBCSN.
Jan 27, 2015, 5:06 PM EST
“There’s a potential even to bring him to Arizona for at least a cup of coffee at the end of the year.”
Jan 27, 2015, 4:26 PM EST
For the old barn in Anaheim.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:33 PM EST
He’ll play on the top line with John Tavares and Josh Bailey against the Rangers.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:11 PM EST
Kick off six straight games at Rogers Arena tonight versus Anaheim.
Goalie nods: Greiss starts for Pens, which has nothing to do with Fleury getting lit up at the All-Star Game
Jan 27, 2015, 2:27 PM EST
News and notes from around the crease…
Jan 27, 2015, 2:20 PM EST
“We know what the standings look like. That’s no secret. But we can’t make up all those points this week.”
Jan 27, 2015, 1:38 PM EST
We already knew he tried to use Seattle for the same purpose.
Jan 27, 2015, 1:23 PM EST
And so ends one of the most storied goaltending careers in NHL history.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:56 PM EST
Bill Peters sounds fed up.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:35 PM EST
Defending champs are just 20-15-12 after 47 games.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:28 PM EST
After failing to find a trade partner for the 28-year-old.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:17 PM EST
Your move, Los Angeles.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
“He wants to build for the long term and he understands that there is some suffering involved.”
Jan 27, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Bob Murray wants a defenseman, according to pretty much everyone.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:12 AM EST
The worst of the storm was saved for New England.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
Get back into the swing of things.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
“I’m still a little ways away. Hopefully I keep making the right strides.”
- Martin Brodeur to retire, become Blues asst. GM (Updated) 35
- Mike Richards clears waivers 31
- Game on: Islanders-Rangers to be played despite storm 15
- Flyers’ Rinaldo suspended eight games for his hit on Letang 55
- Isles’ rise to be tested as they lose Okposo for 6-8 weeks 16
- L.A. Sorry? Kings waive Mike Richards 123
- Bobrovsky out 4-6 weeks, Jackets recall goalie Forsberg 3
- Blue Jackets proud as Columbus shows it’s a hockey town 24
- From contract dispute to All-Star MVP, Johansen’s had quite the year 17
- Marc-Andre Fleury would like to remind the Columbus crowd that the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets in the playoffs 33
- Columnist: Flyers ‘orchestrated’ fight night versus Pens during meal at ‘a local steakhouse’ (130)
- L.A. Sorry? Kings waive Mike Richards (123)
- Report: Flyers’ Rinaldo waives right to an in-person hearing (61)
- Video: NHL offers Flyers’ Rinaldo in-person hearing (57)
- Flyers’ Rinaldo suspended eight games for his hit on Letang (55)