One of hockey’s most feared enforcers reveals his off-ice battles with heroin and depression
Chris Nilan, who grew up in the tough and gritty Irish enclavein Boston, was a feared enforcer for the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, and a Stanley Cup champion never afraid to go into the corners or take off his gloves. He was a valued teammate whose very presence on the ice affected the way the game was played. Always a colourful character, Nilan was married for many years to the daughter of the longtime girlfriend of Boston mob figure Whitey Bulger, among the most notorious, ruthless and murderous gangsters in American history—almost all of his Habs teammates attended the wedding. As an enforcer and as a teammate, Nilan ranks among the greatest of all time.
When the cheering stopped, however, Chris Nilan did not do well. The same qualities—his aggressiveness and high-emotion style—that proved so valuable on the ice did not serve him well when his career ended. Nilan turned to drugs and alcohol to dull his pain, and nearly died from an overdose. Nilan’s story is a fascinating and troubling exposé of the booze, bills and drugs that destroy so many athletes after their careers are over. But it’s also a story of triumph—Nilan has been the victor in his fight against his demons.