‘Knuckles’ Nilan joins TSN Radio 690

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

BRENDA BRANSWELL
THE GAZETTE

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.”

611 Comments

  1. mdp2011 says:

    New Thread alert.

  2. Loonie says:

    Good article about Subban by Arpon Basu.

    Subban certainly has had some maturity issues. What I’m sure didn’t help was Randy Ladouceur screaming at every mistake in practice. With the regular attendance in Brossard that has to be a humbling experience for every player but can also turn a player off.

    This is the mentality of the new age hockey player. Don’t scream at them, don’t humiliate them. Speak to them in a rational and direct way and you’ll get results more often than not.

    The guys who haven’t realized this are for the most part not coaching in the NHL anymore. The guys who have realized it(Hitchcock, Sutter and Therrien) have remade themselves because of this understanding and have enjoyed great success so far because of it.

    Good for Therrien and his staff and good for Subban.

  3. bwoar says:

    Someone mentioned Bogosian as a potential rental… what’s with folks thinking the Jets would trade him? Not gonna happen. He might be the best D in Winnipeg.

    Frankly he’d absolutely be #2 on the Habs after Subban (with apologies to #79).

    “thoroughbred”

  4. mdp2011 says:

    Jason Gregor ‏@JasonGregor
    Oilers have put Ben Eager on waivers…. #NHL

  5. joebatts says:

    HABS4LIFE!! Hi guys! just heard that Blake Geoffrion announced his retirement today. Any truth or any other news on this??

  6. DDO_Habs_Fan says:

    Not sure if posted. Subban getting props from his coach and teammates.

    http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=659780&navid=DL

    “You’re always, always, always looking to make your team better. Always.”- Marc Bergevin

  7. Timo says:

    Stubbs saying Sens may start Lehner tonight? Why would they? Wasn’t Bishop the hot goalie Habs lost the game to? I mean, if you believe that kind of thing.

  8. Timo says:

    Ok, time for a new article maybe?

  9. DDO_Habs_Fan says:

    Blake Geoffrion retiring…so sad. Was so excited when he was acquired. I guess bad luck follows in the family. All the best to him.

    “You’re always, always, always looking to make your team better. Always.”- Marc Bergevin

    • habs-fan-84 says:

      Sad news, feel really bad for the kid.

    • Mattyleg says:

      Man, I was at the game.
      Two things:
      (a) I don’t know why he didn’t see Coté coming.
      (2) It was a spectacular-looking hit, but I didn’t think it was that serious at the time. Must’ve been his head off the ice.

      —Hope Springs Eternal—

      • DDO_Habs_Fan says:

        He was the best player in Hamilton by far this year. Surely would have been playing with the Habs this year. A shame.

        “You’re always, always, always looking to make your team better. Always.”- Marc Bergevin

        • habs-fan-84 says:

          He had size and was playing really well to begin the year. A shame for the organization, but more importantly for Blake personally. Must be tough right now for him. Hope all the best to him in the future.

    • Chrisadiens says:

      Sad to hear. A few of us here met/saw Blake at the mini-summit in Hamilton. He was leaving the arena after the game. Sad to see such a nice young man have his career cut short.

      Chrisadiens and HabFan10912, one of the few father son tandems on HIO.

    • Habfan10912 says:

      As Chrisadiens said a few of us got a chance to meet Blake. He was very considerate and shared his time. I hope he has a rich meaningful life. Healthy as well. CHeers Blake.

  10. HabinBurlington says:

    Heart goes out today to a friend of all of ours, Bripro. Brian laid his dog Maggie to rest yesterday, I am sure I speak for all of us dog people here that we wish he and his family the best.

  11. Habfan29 says:

    Elliot Friedman reporting that Blake Geoffrion is going to retire.

  12. adamkennelly says:

    so Ottawa does what Habs should have done – and picks up Kassian for basically nothing. Now who’s realistically left – if Habs wanted to address their need for a true HW. Seems like MB is not going to go that route – because if he was, he would have already. Maybe he’s waiting for Gallagher to get concussed before he makes a move – since Diaz and Bourque being knocked out by some goon was apparently not enough.

    • Loonie says:

      He was on waivers last week and they gave up a draft pick for him

      = stupid

      • Phil C says:

        You need a roster spot available to pick someone upn on waivers, otherwise someone else ends up on waivers or sent down. I think Ottawa’s kids have been playing well so spending them down was probably not an option. Better to give up a 6th rounder than to lose someone else on waivers.

        • Loonie says:

          If the move were to add a player with any kind of skill I would agree. But it says quite a lot about an organization when they’re willing to give up a draft pick for a 5 minute per night fighter.

          Reactionary move.

      • monmick says:

        I was wondering whether there was a techical reason for this? Maybe someone knows. Bryan Murray is usually pretty astute…

    • shiram says:

      Gallagher has already had a concussion this year.

    • HabinBurlington says:

      Clearly MB is an idiot and needs to be fired immediately.

    • commandant says:

      If we only had a goon, we’d be in ____ place.

      Go Habs Go!
      Check out Top Shelf Prospects, my Team by Team prospect reports
      http://lastwordonsports.com/

    • Hstands4Hockey says:

      You do realize this wasn’t Zack Kassian?

      Rule #76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion!
      @Hstands4Hockey

      • jon514 says:

        I think the real question… is what would it take to pry Zach Kassian out of Vancouver?! It would have to be equivalent with a Cody Hodgson obviously…

      • BrianSkrudland says:

        I had to re-read your post after thinking it was my own. We have the same tag-line! Weird.

        ——–
        Wedding Crashers Rule #71: No excuses. Play like a champion!

        • Hstands4Hockey says:

          Haha nice. It’s 76 in the movie – but I’ve seen all sorts of different versions of the Rule #s on merchandise. I’ve worn 76 as my hockey # for years and always wondered if it has any link to PK’s choice for 76.

          Rule #76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion!
          @Hstands4Hockey

    • DDO_Habs_Fan says:

      6th round pick is not nothing to Trevor Timmins.

      “You’re always, always, always looking to make your team better. Always.”- Marc Bergevin

    • Mattyleg says:

      I can’t BELIEVE we didn’t get a talentless fighter who can play no more than 6 minutes per game and spends those six minutes getting brain-dead penalties!!

      We reeeaaallly missed the boat on that one…

      —Hope Springs Eternal—

    • adamkennelly says:

      pretty much all the “experts” think the Habs need to add toughness to this line-up, and I agree. a 6th round pick so Prust doesn’t have to deal with the goons we often play is a sound investment. Reminder Bourque and Diaz out with concussions.

      • commandant says:

        Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton, and Marc Savard have all suffered serious concussions in recent years… playing for arguably the toughest team in the league.

        Also who are pretty much “all the experts”

        Go Habs Go!
        Check out Top Shelf Prospects, my Team by Team prospect reports
        http://lastwordonsports.com/

  13. Loonie says:

    Mr. Bergevin doesn’t want a rental.

    Okay.

    How bout any of…..

    Cory Sarich
    Stephane Robidas
    Zach Bogosian
    Mark Stuart

    • Seps says:

      I wouldn’t mind Bogosian out of those 4.

    • Dust says:

      why would the jets trade BOGO?

      • Loonie says:

        Not sure if it’s accurate or not but reports have been rampant for three years that he’s unhappy with the organization.

        He’s a pending RFA and if they don’t feel they can get him signed at a reasonable price they could move him.

        I’d hardly consider him untouchable as well.

        Also, if they think they’re going anywhere they’re kidding themselves. Bad hockey team.

        • Habfan17 says:

          Even if it were true, they wuld want an equivalent return for him. If Bergevin could trade Gorges and LeBlanc to get him, then it makes sense. I doubt that would be enough for the Jets

          Habfan17

      • Seps says:

        It’s just hypothetical talk , these aren’t rumours lol

    • DDO_Habs_Fan says:

      Like Robidas but don’t think he’s available as he has another year left at a good cap hit. Same for Stuart. Bogosian would have to give up a lot. Sarich makes sense as Boullion would still stay in the lineup. I don’t think MT wants to take Frankie out of the lineup.

      “You’re always, always, always looking to make your team better. Always.”- Marc Bergevin

    • jon514 says:

      Did anyone else watch Pascal Dupuis lay into Chara and Lucic last night? Toughness can come in different packages. Dupuis showed no fear and rocked Boston last night. 90 seconds later they scored two goals in 51 seconds…

  14. So we often talk about adding a one-dimensional tough guy to the lineup to keep opposing goons in line. I’m not sure I agree — goons aren’t afraid of goons — but I do think some more toughness would be great.

    Can you guys think of some tough-as-nails players that could play decent bottom-six minutes, kill penalties and be available for a reasonable price? I’m thinking a better all-round version of Moen, or an Armstrong who can fight if needed.

    My pick out of Winnipeg, if at the deadline it doesn’t look like they’ll make the playoffs: Chris Thorburn.

    Mike Boone: “With Gainey at my side, I’d walk into any dark alley in the world.”

  15. habzfan2003 says:

    Any1 else see the lack of respect that Gally is getting on NHL.com with the rankings for current Calder candidates? There’s no mention of him at all except for in the comments section… Top three are Huberdeau (makes sense), Justin Schultz (meh), and Conacher (I’d like to think I would be racking up the pts. too playing on a line with arguably the best goal scorer in the world…).

    Gally has 3 game winners (1st among rookies), third in pts, and the other players have 4-5 more games played…

    • secretdragonfly says:

      On the TSN page, Gallagher is listed on the NHL Power Rankings – did you mean Galchenyuk?

    • HabinBurlington says:

      ESPN has Gallagher as the number 1 rookie in the NHL right now.

    • Hstands4Hockey says:

      NHL.com is a joke run by Yankees who get their hockey knowledge from plugs like Mike Milbury and Jack Edwards. Apron Basu is the only decent journalist they have.

      They only look at stats and don’t even watch hockey. Conacher gets all his points on TB powerplay playing with Stamkos and St. Louis. Gallagher barely gets PP time and plays way less minutes on a better team. Schultz has not made Edmonton better. Huberdeau I can understand – he’s been terrific but also playing a ton of minutes on a terrible team.

      Rule #76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion!
      @Hstands4Hockey

      • powdered toastmann says:

        Rankings, individual awards…meh…I guess they help boost a player’s value (from another GM’s perspective)…I prefer when our guys fly under the radar. (especially as a team)

  16. Cal says:

    When in Rome, walk softly, wear a big hat and vote often. Film at 11.

  17. Mattyleg says:

    Is it just me, or are the HF Boards extremely confusing and annoying?
    Went to have a look around there… never again.

    —Hope Springs Eternal—

  18. HabinBurlington says:

    How good would Vanek look in a Habs uniform? Interesting article from Buffalo, suggesting the Sabres trade one or all of Pomminville, Vanek and Miller.

    http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130312/SPORTS/130319736/1004

    • Mattyleg says:

      I’d be very interested in Pominville.

      Miller sounds like a little bitch. Honestly. He was clearly one of the elements who ran Ruff out of town (his interview after the firing clearly indicated this) and he complains in every interview and gives his teammates a hard time every time a goal is scored, whether it’s his fault or not.

      -edit- What’s Vanek like? He seems to be a sniper, but would he fit the Therrien ‘total-hockey’ system? Does he back-check?

      —Hope Springs Eternal—

      • HabinBurlington says:

        To me Vanek is the real deal. A big winger with great shot and doesn’t shy away from physical game. Also very deft on the penalty shoot outs.

        Big ticket salary though, 7.1million cap hit for one more season. But bonafide scorer. Would require giving up something significant for him. I suspect he would love playing with Plekanec though.

    • Cal says:

      Miller has to go. His attitude is bleep, ever since Lucic hit him.

    • secretdragonfly says:

      I would take Vanek if the price was reasonable, for sure. I used to really like Miller but I find he’s very bitter nowadays – possibly since he was run over by Lucic with no retribution from either the Sabres or the officials?

    • Hobie Hansen says:

      Vanek does suffer from the same disease as kovalev, inconsistentitus I think it’s called?

      Interested one year, not so much the next…

      Looks amazing this year though!

      • Habfan10912 says:

        That’s for sure. He’ll score 10 goals in 5 games then disappear for long stretches. A lot like Kovalev. Boy, but when he’s hot he’s really really good.
        BTW — I’ve added inconsistentitus to my dictionary. :)

    • Blondie says:

      I wouldn’t mind Pominville or Vanek. They would likely be more expensive than I would care for, but I think they would fit our system nicely.

  19. habs_flan says:

    Gabriel Dumont skating on a line with Ryan White, a Manitoba native. Riel’s legacy well and truly alive. And the Habs keep winning, I’m seeing a Pateryn.

  20. habsfan0 says:

    No Pope selected after 3 rounds of voting.

    Why don’t they just go to a shootout?

  21. Say Ash says:

    I thought the Penguins really over-embellished their goal celebrations last night. Anybody else?

  22. wild flower says:

    From last night’s games:

    Can someone explain how Perry’s hit was worse than Kassian’s?

    Also, there were several hits last night that were very similar to the one Kaleta was suspended for. Example: Stuart during the Jets – Toronto game. The main difference: the recipients were not as floppy on their skates as Brad Richards was.

    • habs-fan-84 says:

      To me the Stuart hit was every bit as bad as Kaleta’s, the difference? Kaleta is a repeat offender. Nevertheless, I would like to assume there’s going to be a suspension on that hit…

      I won’t hold my breath though….

  23. Sportfan says:

    Wow Tsn is still talking about that shootout attempt again making something out of nothing pretty much all the players thought it was cool or funny and Ottawa coaching staff didn’t care So why the hell does TSN care? To me It’s very foxescque.

    http://nickolaisblog.wordpress.com/

    • Luke says:

      Why does TSN care?

      Because there are around 10 24-hour sports channels, plus specialty channels, looking for content.

      “It was cool” generates no discussion and fills no time.

      “It was bad” generates a little and barely fills time.

      “It was worse than Bertuzzi clobbering Moore. It shows a complete lack of respect for the game and the opposition. Players like Daugavins should take wrist shots on shootouts and stick to checking from behind, like a good Canadian kid would” = Content!

  24. Hobie Hansen says:

    Watched Chris Nilan’s movie last night. guys, If you haven’t seen it yet and love the Canadiens, you have to watch it. Excellent clips of Serge Savard, Bob Gainey and other greats talking about Nilan’s career. As well as some great fights.

    There’s one great part where Dave Semenko has Nilan’s head in his chest, holding it there, laughing. Sort of like a few weeks ago when Frazer Maclaren was laughing at Josh Gorges. Harry Neale was doing the colour on CBC and stated that Semenko should wipe the grin off his face because he might be bigger but Nilan has more heart. Sure enough, Nilan breaks free and lands a few upper cuts on Semenko and the grin was wiped off his face pretty quickly. Wicked fight.

    Nilan had a few seasons were he was around the 20 goal mark and was the toughest SOB in the league. I wish we had him on our 3rd or 4th line in his prime today!

    Love ya Chris!!!!!

  25. Saintpatrick33 says:

    I finally saw the last gladiators last night. If anyone hasn’t seen it yet I highly recommend it. I wish Chris nothing but the best in his new gig at Team 690 I’m very happy for him.


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