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 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
The worst should be behind them.
Aug 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Monday’s collection of links.
Aug 2, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Is his poor Game 7 record reflective of anything?
Aug 2, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
In other words, how much longer will Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler stay at the top of their game?
Aug 2, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
His newly signed two-year deal is an opportunity for
Aug 2, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
He’s got the size and skill to potentially make an impact.
Aug 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Andersen, Gibson & Khudobin have a combined 27 Stanley Cup playoff games on their resume.
Aug 2, 2015, 1:31 PM EDT
Will all of them play in 2015-16?
Aug 2, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT
That will eat up his first year of UFA eligibility.
Aug 2, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
Can they close to final gap between them and the Stanley Cup?
Aug 2, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
They avoided an arbitration judgment.
Aug 2, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
They’re in win now mode.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
He’ll add some toughness to the lineup.
Aug 1, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
New Jersey is still working on getting the 18-year-old signed to an entry-level contract.
Aug 1, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The two met in the Czech Republic to get to know one another.
Aug 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Lehtonen and Niemi will account for $10.4 million in cap space next season.
Aug 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
He’s heading into the final year of his two-year, $5 million deal.
Aug 1, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
Winnipeg was affiliated with the Ontario Reign last season.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT
He signed a two-year, bridge contract worth $5.6 million on Thursday.
Jul 31, 2015, 10:22 PM EDT
He’s also a veteran of 616 career games.
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- How do Voracek, Giroux compare to the most expensive duos? 54
- Voracek turns monster season into massive eight-year deal 71
- Report: Canucks, Sutter closing in on five-year deal, north of $20M 28
- Voynov serving sentence at jail that once advertised it had flat screen TVs 45
- Report: Bernier and Leafs more than $2 million apart ahead of Friday’s arbitration hearing 12
- Flyers re-sign Couturier: six years, $26 million 41
- Benning calls Sutter a ‘foundation piece’ for Canucks 24
- Here’s a chart that shows which teams have been good/bad at drafting 44
- Bettman says NHL would have to ‘consider’ putting Quebec City in the Western Conference (71)
- Voracek turns monster season into massive eight-year deal (71)
- Rangers sign Stepan — six years, $39 million (62)
- NBC Sports to broadcast 105 NHL games in 2015-16 (58)
- How do Voracek, Giroux compare to the most expensive duos? (56)