Tag: Chris Nilan

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.”

PHT’s Morning Skate: Alex Ovechkin is hangin’ with Mike Tyson


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Alex Ovechkin gets to have all the fun hanging out with Mike Tyson. We’re sure Ovi knows what tigers do and don’t like by now. (Alex Ovechkin on Twitter)

Ottawa has a trio of youngsters on defense that are making Sens fans think of the 70’s Habs? Someone check the hyperbole meter. (Ottawa Sun)

Phil Kessel… The leader of the Maple Leafs? Sure thing, just as long as they’re not picking sides for pick-up games. (TSN)

Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan, and Jim Thomson all accept Don Cherry’s apology. Litigation threats are the new face wash. (Sportsnet)

Meanwhile, Cherry’s apology isn’t being bought by everyone, especially Bruce Dowbiggin. (Globe And Mail)

Time for the Jets to put out a distress call because of their bad start? Almost… (Winnipeg Sun)

News flash: The Bruins’ PK is still good. Not a news flash: Their power play stinks. (CSNNewEngland.com)

Marcel Goc is impressing those in Florida with his two-way play. We bet the Preds miss him too. (Sun Sentinel)

Could we see Erik Gudbranson and Steve Downie drop gloves again tonight? Perhaps… (Miami Herald)

The improved Ducks defense is strengthening them overall. Jonas Hiller must be giddy about this. (Orange County Register)

Don Cherry publically apologizes on CBC’s Coach’s Corner

2011 Home Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game

CBC lightning rod Don Cherry made waves two weeks ago when he publically called out former enforcers Chris Nilan, Stu Grimson, and Jim Thomsen. He said he was “disgusted” with the former enforcers because of their stance on fighting using words like “pukes,” “turncoats,” and “hypocrites.” Following the segment and some serious public outcry afterward, the three were considering legal action against the television personality.

Tonight, Cherry took the opportunity to apologize to the three former enforcers. From CBC:

“I gotta admit I was wrong on a lot of things,” Cherry said. “Three enforcers, tough guys, my type of guys, I threw them under the bus, and I’m sorry about it. I really am.”


“Chris and Stu never said that they took drugs because they were enforcers in the National Hockey League,” Cherry said. “Also, they never said they wanted fighting out of the game, that’s for sure.”

“I was wrong on that, 100 per cent wrong. And when you’re wrong, you have to admit it.”

You can see the full segment here.

What are the chances that the threat of a lawsuit had anything to do with the public apology. It was surprising nine days ago when Cherry publically went after the three former NHL tough guys—he’s been championing players like these for his entire career around the NHL. It didn’t take long for Chris Nilan to respond:

What do you think? Do you think it was good that Don Cherry apologized for his strong comments a week ago or should he have stayed true to his word.

Add former Flames brawler Jim Peplinski to the anti-fighting camp

Jim Peplinski

In the wake of three deaths this summer to guys who were known more for throwing their fists than for scoring goals, the debate over whether or not the NHL should continue to allow fighting is heating up. From hearing Devils forward Cam Janssen talking about what he deals with in being a fighter to having the debate rage on with Georges Laraque saying that it’s a part of the game that can’t be eliminated job-wise it’s a topic wrought with angles.

One thing that is happening through all this, however, is hearing from players from hockey’s past who find that with the way things have changed in the NHL, they’re finding that their opinions are changed on how they used to make their living in hockey.

One such guy is former Calgary Flames tough guy Jim Peplinski. In Peplinski’s 11-year NHL career, he played in 711 games and racked up 1,467 penalty minutes including fights with some of the NHL’s most legendary fighters like Bob Probert, John Kordic, and Chris Nilan. Coincidentally, Probert and Kordic were two of the most troubled guys of their day as Kordic died in 1992 from heart failure due to drug abuse and Probert passed away last year from a heart attack after a career that involved many fights and drug problems of his own.

Peplinski tells Eric Duhatschek of The Globe & Mail that the way fighting is handled today makes it vastly more dangerous than it was in his day.

Peplinski, who said his distaste for fighting was a contributing factor in his decision to retire prematurely from the NHL, noted: “I never enjoyed fighting. My son always says, ‘Did you ever get mad?’ Just in the moment.

“I never held any intentional premeditation that there was going to be a fight. Sometimes, it happened. What I see today is different than that. I would prefer today, with the way the game has gone, to see fighting completely eliminated.

“I think most fights – 90 per cent – add nothing to the game and in fact, they take away from the beauty of the game. It’s in that category of mixed martial arts or WWE, and the players risk serious injury.”

The staged fight aspect of the NHL is one that drives a lot of fans and pundits crazy. After all, you can virtually predict when a fight will break out given who’s put out on the ice and often times these fights spring out of nowhere for no rhyme or reason aside from it involving two guys whose sole job is to throw punches and little else.

The injuries that can occur during a fight, either obvious or not, is what is at the heart of the matter in this debate. With concussions and their treatment being such a major point of concern, you have to wonder how long fighting will remain in the game before it’s outlawed in favor of player safety. After all, with the league going out of their way to take care of players who are victimized by head shots by suspending players responsible for that, two guys engaging in fisticuffs mutually comes off looking backwards and counterproductive to the cause.

If those who want to keep fighting in the game want to make a case for doing so, treating hockey fighters the way boxing and MMA commissions treat their fighters health-wise would be a good step. That means clearing players by a doctor after going through a fight and making sure they’re 100-percent healthy before even setting foot back on the ice. After all, bare-knuckle boxing hasn’t been around in the United States since 1889, but it’s part of the game in hockey. Think about that.

It’s not quite King Solomon’s compromise, but if everyone is going to have what they want, this would be a good way to approach things.

Hockey’s summer of tragedy turns debate towards whether to keep fighting in the game

Ben Eager, Kyle Clifford

After this summer’s string of NHL tragedies surrounding the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak their common role as enforcers in the league is leading to another more contentious debate. With the talk of how fighters in the NHL live a tougher life than other players thanks to their role being one that demands them to play the game more with their fists than through more conventional skills, the debate over whether fighting belongs in the NHL has rightly or wrongly been sparked.

After all, we haven’t seen guys that play a more standard version of the game run into troubles with pain killers and/or depression leading to their demise. With that common quality among the three players that have died this summer, that’s enough evidence for some to start casting blame upon that part of the game for leading to their personal downfall.

The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek shared a bit from Boston Bruins executive Harry Sinden saying that if fighting were eliminated from the game, ultimately the game would improve greatly and points to the playoffs as the reason why.

Sinden pointed out that the best moments in hockey tend to be fight-free anyway.

“We don’t have it in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which are a fantastic series of games,” he said. “Do we need it to help the regular season survive, because they’re certainly not always a series of great games? I don’t know. But I’ve watched for a number of years where there hasn’t been any fighting to speak of in the Stanley Cup playoffs and I don’t think I’ve missed it.”

It’s a smart thing to say in the face of the debate that’s picked up of late and selling the high intensity action point of the NHL makes a lot of sense. The problem is not every regular season game is played like a playoff game. With 82 games in a season, it’s a marathon and not a sprint and different issues manifest themselves during a season. Beefs are had, vengeance is sought, and the gloves get dropped. As long as fighting is legal in the game, there’s going to be a need in some teams eyes to have an enforcer or two on the roster and on the ice.

While not all teams agree with that line of thought (Detroit and Tampa Bay most notably), enforcers are viewed as a necessary thing and some former fighters are speaking up on their behalf. Georges Laraque penned a piece for the Globe & Main saying that while he hated fighting, it’s a necessary evil in the NHL.

If you think that taking fighting out of hockey is the solution, you are wrong. Eliminating an aspect of the game to solve an issue is never the right way to accomplish things.

I would not want to be the person to make that rule because there will be 75 or more players out of a job because of it, and you would see some going into depression. There are also kids just like me who are playing junior hockey with the hope fighting stays in the game so they can have a job some day. This would create a bigger issue. For me, all those former tough guy who are retired and commentating on television and on radio about taking fighting out of hockey are making me sick. They were there at the right time and now that they’ve made their money, they’re going to spit on what put bread on their table? Well, that’s not going to happen with me.

Laraque isn’t the only one saying as much as former Canadiens brawler Chris Nilan has also said as much. Laraque says that having a committee of former fighters being available on stand-by for players having trouble with dealing with the perils of fighting (low salary, constant pain, fear of losing your job to another fighter) can turn to them for help in talking those issues out. It’s a great idea that helps split the difference between taking something out of the game that some view as necessary and others see as a needless side show that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

While we’ve seen other past fighters deal with issues in their career with substance problems (most notably former Red Wings and Blackhawks fighter Bob Probert) this new wave of tortured souls is especially hard to watch because no one really knows what it was that drove them to be self destructive. Fighting may lend itself to people with personalities that deviate from normal or it might be the thing that leads to players being forced to face up to issues later on in life. Fact is, we don’t know what the link is there (if any) but the one thing that can happen if fighting isn’t taken out of the game is that everyone involved can learn to better look out for each other off the ice.