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.”
Apr 26, 2015, 12:07 AM EDT
Another big rally at the Saddledome.
Apr 25, 2015, 11:03 PM EDT
A six-game series that felt like (at least) seven.
Apr 25, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Wild stuff at the Saddledome tonight.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
Vancouver looking to avoid elimination for the second straight game.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:55 PM EDT
Zero goals in five playoff games.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:18 PM EDT
A healthy tally.
Apr 25, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
Putting on a clinic.
Apr 25, 2015, 8:41 PM EDT
Corey Crawford’s back in.
Apr 25, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
The Islanders won 3-1 in Game 6.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
No penalty on the play.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:10 PM EDT
He made his postseason debut in Game 4.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:03 PM EDT
Plenty of life on Long Island.
Apr 25, 2015, 5:48 PM EDT
Apr 25, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
Keep this bounce in mind in the third period.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT
He’s been ruled out of the series due to a rib injury.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Carlson has his first of the playoffs.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Kudos to the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and the Decatur Civic Center in Decatur, Illinois.
Apr 25, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
He’ll backup for a fourth straight game.
Apr 25, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
New York, Nashville and Vancouver are all facing elimination today.
Apr 25, 2015, 2:25 PM EDT
Both were in their first season with the hockey club.
- One more time, with feeling: Flames stage yet another comeback, eliminate Vancouver 11
- Keith conquers: Blackhawks come back, eliminate Predators 36
- Red Wings smother Lightning, take 3-2 series lead 17
- Going the distance: Isles edge Caps to force Game 7 29
- WATCH LIVE: Today’s Stanley Cup playoff action 6
- Lucic issues statement on father’s passing 10
- Hall caught off guard by Oilers’ front office shuffle 18
- Wild’s Dubnyk shakes off six-goal night, saves 36 as Blues pushed to brink 34
- WATCH LIVE: Tonight’s Stanley Cup Playoff action 5
- Malkin: ‘I want to say sorry to fans, to my teammates’ 58
- Too little, too late: Rangers stifle Penguins for 2-1 series lead (114)
- It’s Done: Rangers eliminate Penguins in overtime (106)
- Bettman under fire after saying ‘Katy Perry’ chant wasn’t sexist (92)
- Okposo blasts ‘idiot’ Wilson after physical outing versus Isles (82)
- Preds, Forsberg finally solve Darling, push series to Game 6 (76)