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.”
Mar 11, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
The contest featured his former team the Saginaw Spirit.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
The 20-year-old had been missing since March 3.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
On the bright side, there’s the Batmobile.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
The Pens have won seven in a row vs. Washington, including Monday.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:33 PM EDT
Because there’s a really good chance they will.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:56 PM EDT
Big development for the ‘Hawks.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT
Click for the details.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
All the latest from the blue paint…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
“We played well in the first game, but then it all disappeared.”
Mar 11, 2014, 3:49 PM EDT
The sons of George and Brian, respectively.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Whether he does or not will impact the Flyers’ roster.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
A big defenseman from Lake Superior State.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:18 PM EDT
Burly power forward’s in the midst of a disappointing season.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
“It’s great to have him around,” said Wild head coach Mike Yeo.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Dallas GM Jim Nill also released a statement.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:38 PM EDT
“We need to take this one, especially if there’s a four-point swing,” says d-man Brendan Smith.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Rough season for him, to say the least.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
Suffered third straight loss on Monday night vs. Toronto.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
“The fans won’t have it. The players won’t have it. And even if you hire a new GM, there is no way he’ll have it.”
Mar 11, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
He thinks the Panthers have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup before he retires.
- Terry Trafford’s body found in Michigan on Tuesday 6
- WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins 2
- PHT Extra: What happens if the Caps miss the playoffs? 13
- Wings can’t afford regulation loss to Jackets 6
- ‘It’s obvious Tortorella can’t come back next year,’ writes Vancouver reporter 54
- NHL on NBCSN: Capitals fight to earn first win vs. Penguins in 26 months 11
- Vanquished: Isles stun Canucks with seven-goal third period 27
- Peverley asked to return to game following ‘cardiac event’ 23
- Peverley hospitalized, conscious after collapsing on Stars bench (Update) 19
- Sens’ Ceci won’t return after Weber’s shot lacerates his ear (Update) 8
- BLOCKBUSTER: Lightning trade St. Louis to Rangers for Callahan (82)
- Kings make splash, acquire Gaborik from Columbus (72)
- Steve Moore remains shocked, disgusted about Todd Bertuzzi attack (71)
- Chiasson ‘shaken up’ by Peverley incident, won’t dress for Stars tonight (68)
- Flyers’ Luke Schenn on first-period brawl: ‘That’s the way it goes’ (57)