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.”
Jul 29, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
Low-risk signing, with good potential upside.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:33 PM EDT
“When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.”
Jul 29, 2014, 12:36 PM EDT
Had 13 goals and eight assists in 2013-14, his rookie season in the NHL.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
IIHF Disciplinary Board levies punishment for “very forceful check.”
Jul 29, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Was traded from Toronto on July 1.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:04 AM EDT
New Caps coach wants “people who are really good at distributing the puck and making things happen from the middle of the ice.”
Jul 29, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
Had 11 goals and seven assists in 53 games last season.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:47 AM EDT
Expected to be healthy for training camp.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT
Can become an unrestricted free agent next summer now.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
They won the Stanley Cup together in Tampa Bay.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Tuesday’s collection of links.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Both were part of Dallas’ 1999 championship.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:16 PM EDT
He was recently hired by the team to serve as an assistant general manager.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT
That won’t be easy given the Bruins’ current logjam.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
He might still end up playing in Russia.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT
He attempted to make the transition to North America in 2013-14.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
The two sides are unlikely to agree to terms quickly though.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:37 PM EDT
Yashin and Bure are among the players that will compete against Los Angeles.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
“I was told there’s a definite opportunity.”
Jul 28, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
Former Anaheim forward posted a career high in points last year.
- Blues sign former eighth overall pick Mueller 0
- Trotz plans to let Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Burakovsky compete for time at center 20
- Eric Staal has surgery to repair ‘core muscle injury’ 3
- After not seeing ‘eye-to-eye’ with Carlyle, Reimer will compete for No. 1 gig 11
- Two down, one to go: Wings ink Tatar to three-year, $8.25M deal 11
- Cashing in: Rangers sign Brassard to five-year, $25 million deal 63
- Subban not eager to discuss contract talks 33
- Leafs re-sign Reimer — two years, $4.6 million 22
- Gorges still can’t explain falling out of favor in Montreal 13
- Eller, Habs agree to four-year, $14 million contract 10
- NBC Sports to air over 100 NHL regular-season games in 2014-15 (69)
- Cashing in: Rangers sign Brassard to five-year, $25 million deal (63)
- Avs and O’Reilly agree on two-year deal, but questions remain (45)
- Arena deal in jeopardy? Glendale mayor requests investigation into ‘clear violation’ of state law (42)
- Zuccarello takes Rangers’ one year, $3.5M deal (42)