Former Canadien Chris Nilan will have his own show on Montreal’s TSN Radio 690 beginning Monday, March 18.
Off The Cuff With Chris Nilan will air weekdays from 1-3 p.m., with Nilan also joining host Tony Marinaro on The Intermission from noon until 1 p.m.
“There is no other team I’d rather talk about and no other city I’d rather live in,” Nilan, who was a guest on the first Hockey Inside/Out show, said in a news release. “I’m honoured to join the home of the Montreal Canadiens and work with the same passionate Habs fans that welcomed me with open arms during my hockey career.”
Said Mitch Melnick, host of Melnick In The Afternoon on TSN Radio 690: “When Chris made it clear he wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting we made no promises. What we did do was open a door so he could reconnect to the city he loves and to the many fans who love him. To his credit, Chris has kicked that door down.”
Nilan spent 13 seasons in the NHL, including 10 with the Canadiens. He holds the franchise record for most career penalty minutes (2,670), but also scored in double figures three times in his career, including a 21-goal season in 1984-85 and 19 in 1985-86 when the Habs won the Stanley Cup.
Below is a feature story The Gazette’s Brenda Branswell wrote about Nilan when the documentary The Last Gladiators, focusing on his life, had its Montreal premiere last October. The film was released Tuesday on DVD.
(Photo by Allen McInnis/The Gazette)
Documentary brought Nilan to tears
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON OCT. 25, 2012
In the opening sequence of The Last Gladiators the only things visible on the black screen are Chris Nilan’s hands.
He points out past wounds from hockey fights: Teeth in his hand, a shattered knuckle, the spot where his finger was almost bitten off.
The documentary film about hockey enforcers features interviews with former National Hockey League tough guys about the role. There are clips from Marty McSorley, Tony Twist and the late Bob Probert, among others.
But the main focus is Nilan, who racked up more than 3,500 penalty minutes in his 13 years in the NHL and earned the nickname Knuckles.
Through interviews with Nilan, his family and childhood friends – along with former teammates and hockey writers – the film looks at his career, his slide into drug addiction after he retired and subsequent recovery.
Nilan was in tears when he first saw the documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011.
“It was tough for me to watch,” he said.
The focus on Nilan was because he was such an interesting character and “so exceedingly honest about himself, the league, everything,” said Alex Gibney, the director.
“And that made him just extraordinarily compelling.”
In the documentary, retired enforcer Todd Ewen, who played for the Habs in the early 1990s, described himself as a “regretful tough guy.”
“I loved the game of hockey and I didn’t like my role,” Ewen said.
Nilan said in an interview this week that he loved to fight, but didn’t grow up longing to be a fighter.
“I grew up with dreams of being Bobby Orr.”
When it became evident that wasn’t going to happen, Nilan said: “The fighting avenue opened up an opportunity to become a hockey player and that to me was key.”
Fighting was easy for Nilan. The hard part was becoming a hockey player, the guy who plays every shift with his line and can be relied on to play in different situations.
“I achieved those goals,” Nilan said. “And that to me, that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Nilan spent 10 seasons with the Canadiens and in three consecutive seasons in the mid-’80s scored 16, 21 and 19 goals, respectively.
He feels indebted to the Canadiens for not limiting him to one role.
“They weren’t satisfied with me just being a fighter- and that started from Day 1,” Nilan said. “(Former coach) Claude Ruel worked with me day in and day out. I loved the man. I mean, I absolutely love Claude Ruel.”
Others helped Nilan when he was with the Habs, like former coach Jacques Lemaire who told Nilan he fought too much.
“I almost didn’t trust him when he told me that,” recalled Nilan, because he grew up watching the Bruins in Boston and “once a guy stopped fighting he was out the door.”
“So if anything, like I said in the film, I kicked it up a notch.”
In the film, Nilan, who underwent 26 different surgeries over the years, talks about his struggles after he retired. He ended up taking painkillers, which helped in the short term, “but once I got addicted to them, I was a slave to it.”
He went into treatment for a few months, but began drinking again, and eventually starting taking pills again and shooting heroin.
After a bad car accident in which he narrowly missed an 18-wheeler, “I said I got to try and kick this stuff,” Nilan recounts in the film. He went into treatment again.
The most moving moments occur when Nilan and his father, Henry, a former Green Beret in the U.S. army, get emotional on screen. He was with his dad when the elder Nilan watched the film for the first time and was dying to see his response.
“And afterward he said to me: ‘Geez, I wish I was able to get the questions ahead of time.’”
Nilan believes it bothered his father in a sense that it comes out in the film that he was ashamed of his son. But Nilan sounds like he took it in stride. “If that’s his true feelings and that’s how he felt, then c’mon, that’s what it is,” Nilan said. “And that’s okay.
“It was hard for me to watch, but it’s okay because those were his feelings and he expressed them.
“They’re so happy I’m sober and clean,” he said of his parents. “It was hard on my family.
“My dad didn’t understand a lot of it. Listen, if I had cancer, if I had that disease, I think my father would have been so sympathetic to me.”
But Nilan’s affliction happened to be the disease of addiction, he added, and people look at that as self-induced.
Nilan said he strongly believes he would have had the same problem had he been a lawyer, a mailman or worked on the back of a garbage truck.
When he was approached for the film, Nilan had just come out of drug and alcohol treatment.
He believes many people identify with and like enforcers.
“But I don’t know if they really know what each and every guy goes through to fulfil that role that he has, which I believe is the most difficult role in sports,” he said.
“I hope people see just how tough it is for the guys to have played that role.”
He also believes the film will give people a sense of hope.
“No matter how bad things get in our lives, there’s al-ways something deep down inside us that we can tap into that will allow us to get back on our feet and change our lives.”