Chris Nilan

Legendary tough guy Chris Nilan opens his life in “The Last Gladiators”


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.”

They ‘don’t have superstars,’ but the Wild are off to a hot start

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 25:  Jonas Brodin #25 of the Minnesota Wild, Jason Zucker #16 and Joel Eriksson Ek #14 congratulate Chris Stewart #7 after he scored against Boston Bruins during the second period at TD Garden on October 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Eight games into the season, nobody on the Minnesota Wild has more than three goals, but nine players have scored at least twice, and seven more have done it once.

Indeed, it’s been a very balanced attack that’s helped the Wild to a 5-2-1 start. They smoked the Sabres, 4-0, last night in Buffalo. Four different players got goals, including defenseman Ryan Suter.

“That’s how we have to win,” Suter told reporters. “We don’t have the superstars. We need everybody on the team participating.”

It’s interesting that Suter would mention the lack of superstars, because that’s the exact same message head coach Bruce Boudreau was pushing when he took the job in May.

“As much as I like Ovechkin and Getzlaf and Perry, you don’t need those guys to win,” Boudreau said. “You can do it the old-fashioned way. You do it as a team.”

It’s only been eight games, so the Wild still have a lot to prove. They were outshot, 38-22, last night, and their possession stats propose the possibility that an unsustainably high shooting percentage and great goaltending from Devan Dubnyk (4-1-1, .944) have been the real keys to their winning start.

“He’s carrying us right now,” d-man Matt Dumba said of Dubnyk, “so we’ll ride that wave.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting great goaltending, and the Wild shouldn’t have to apologize for burying their scoring chances either. Puck possession isn’t everything in hockey, and at any rate, possession stats don’t have the greatest predictive power so early in the season.

For now, Boudreau’s superstar-less group gets the benefit of the doubt.

The Wild host Dallas Saturday and Buffalo Tuesday before hitting the road for games in Denver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Ottawa.

‘It’s outstanding to be at home’ — ‘Canes to play their opener, finally

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 22:  Fans welcome the players to the ice before a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes during play at PNC Arena on January 22, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes will get to do what every other NHL team has already done this season — play a game at home.

And they’re pretty stoked about it.

“Outstanding,” head coach Bill Peters said about finally getting to their home opener, per the Raleigh News & Obsever. “It’s outstanding to be at home.”

The ‘Canes opened the year with a six-game road trip, in which they went 1-3-2 (culminating with Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Detroit.) At first glance, that might seem like a disappointment — securing just four of a possible 12 points — but there were some positives.

For one, Carolina knows it could’ve, and should’ve, snagged a few more points. The club had 3-0 leads on Winnipeg and Vancouver to start the trip but blew both, and ended up losing in overtime.

In Philly on Saturday, the ‘Canes had a 2-0 lead early in the second period before the Flyers scored four unanswered goals, and went on to a 6-3 win.

Offensively, the club has looked good, paced by the trio of Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak. Those three often played on the club’s top line during the trip, and Rask emerged as the club’s leader with seven points through the first six games.

Of course, the club does have its issues. The ‘Canes currently sit 29th in the NHL in goals against, with neither netminder — Cam Ward or Eddie Lack — having shown consistent form early in the year.

The hope for Peters and company is that the return to PNC Arena will change the negatives around. Tonight’s game against the Rangers is the first in a stretch where Carolina will play eight of 11 at home.

After Vancouver release, Tuomo Ruutu signs in Switzerland

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 21:  Tuomo Ruutu #15 of the New Jersey Devils prepares to play against the Ottawa Senators at the Prudential Center on January 21, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Senators 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Tuomo Ruutu has found work.

After spending training camp and the exhibition campaign in Vancouver on a professional tryout, the veteran Finn has agreed to join Swiss National League A side HC Davos, the team announced on Friday.

Ruutu, 33, caught on with the Canucks after a 13-year career in which he played 735 games for three different teams — Chicago, Carolina and New Jersey. Injuries limited him to just 33 games for the Devils last season and, to be fair, several seasons prior as well.

Ruutu had only appeared in 186  of a possible 246 games over the last three years.

In his prime, Ruutu was an energetic winger that could bang and crash, as well as score goals. He netted a career-high 26 with the ‘Canes in ’08-09, and scored 15 or more five times in his career.

Though he lasted nearly the entire preseason with the Canucks, Ruutu was dropped just prior to the start of the regular season. Another veteran forward that attended camp on a PTO — Jack Skille — did manage to score a one-way deal from the Canucks, however.


Jets put Little on IR, recall Dano

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 16: Marko Dano #56 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 16, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, we passed along news out of Winnipeg that veteran center Bryan Little would be out another month with a lower-body injury.

Today, the Jets have made a roster move to fill the void.

Marko Dano, the 27th overall pick in 2013, has been recalled from AHL Manitoba, the club announced on Friday. In a corresponding move, the Jets put Little on injured reserve.

Dano, 21, has been an interesting figure the last couple of years. He burst onto the scene as a rookie in Columbus in ’14-15, scoring 21 points in 35 games while looking like a promising young talent.

As such, he was one of the key pieces the Jackets had to part with in the Brandon Saad trade with Chicago — but Dano struggled to find similar form in the Windy City. He played just 13 games under head coach Joel Quenneville, scoring two points, and was shuttled off to Winnipeg at the deadline as part of the Andrew Ladd deal.

Dano appeared in 21 games for Winnipeg last year, scoring eight points. But he failed to crack the team out of training camp this year and was dispatched to the minors, where he’s racked up a pair of assists in six games.

Dano could be in line for some immediate action. The Jets, 4-1 winners over Dallas last night, are back in action this evening as they take on the Avs in Colorado. On Sunday, Winnipeg is back in action again as it hosts Buffalo at the MTS Centre.