Chris Nilan

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

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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.”

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Sharks – Game 6

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues, Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks, and Joe Thornton #19 argue with a referee during the second period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.

You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday

 

‘There’s still lots of room for growth’: Stars GM preaches patience with Nichushkin

Valeri Nichushkin
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Valeri Nichushkin has the tools — listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 205 pounds with devastating speed. He has the skill.

However, now at the end of his entry-level contract, the 10th overall draft pick for the Dallas Stars in 2013 has endured the highs and lows associated with a young player trying to make his mark in the National Hockey League after a promising rookie campaign.

For starters, his sophomore 2014-15 season was essentially wiped out — he played only eight games for the Stars — by a hip injury that required surgery. He also didn’t get off to the greatest start this season, and coming back from surgery likely played a factor as to why, as he found his way into Lindy Ruff’s doghouse early on.

As a result, was made a healthy scratch.

His bottom line offensive numbers included nine goals and 29 points in 79 games played, and one assist in 10 playoff games for the Stars, as they were eliminated in the second round.

Still, he’s just 21 years old. When playing with top players like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, he was able to get on a bit of a roll offensively.

Stars GM Jim Nill, speaking on SiriusXMNHL, referenced the difficulty for a young player coming back off surgery, but remains confident in Nichushkin.

“We’re happy with Val,” he said (at around the 5:30 mark).

“Came back this year, got off to a slow start because of that. We thought the last five games of the playoffs, he really started to look like himself. He started to dominate down low and in the corners.

“He is only 21. I know there’s still lots of room for growth, so we’re going to be patient with him. We think he’s a big part of our future.”

 

Coyotes hire new COO

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes have hired Anaheim Ducks executive Ari Segal as chief operating officer.

The move was announced by the team on Wednesday.

Segal previously served as a special assistant to Anaheim CEO Michael Schulman and as president of business operations for the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Segal helped with preparations for the new AHL club and recently worked with the NHL in the league’s broadcast media strategy group, evaluating league and team broadcast rights and distribution deals.

Segal previously worked as an associate in the sports practice at McKinsey & Company, a New York-based management consulting firm.

Related: The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

Jackets re-sign Sedlak, AHL affiliate’s leading playoff scorer

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 20:  Lukas Sedlak #85 of the Columbus Blue Jackets waits for the pass during the game against the Winnipeg Jets on September 20, 2011 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Ohio.  The Blue Jackets defeated the Jets 5-1.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
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Columbus farmhand Lukas Sedlak, who currently sits tied atop AHL Lake Erie’s playoff scoring leaderboard, has signed a one-year, two-way deal, the Jackets announced on Wednesday.

Sedlak, 23, was a fifth-round pick in 2011 that’s spent the last three years in the American League. This season was by far his most successful — in addition to potting a career-best 14 goals, he’s become close to a point-a-game producer in the playoffs, with 11 through 12 games.

“Sedlak has been on a run for us with goal-scoring,” Lake Erie head coach Jared Bednar said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “He’s not a guy who does it for us every night. But he works so hard in all the other areas.”

Sedlak has yet to make his NHL debut, but could be in the mix for a recall next season.