|Former Bruins enforcer Chris Nilan on D&C explains friendship with Whitey Bulger: ‘I’m a loyal person. He was a friend of mine’||12.19.13 at 10:49 am ET|
Former NHL enforcer Chris Nilan joined Dennis & Callahan on Thursday to talk about his hockey career, his post-NHL addiction issues and his friendship with Whitey Bulger that continues to this day.
Nilan, a product of West Roxbury and Northeastern University, was selected 231st (of 234 players) in the 1978 NHL draft but managed to have a long career with the Canadiens, Rangers and Bruins. He still holds the Canadiens franchise record for penalty minutes in a career (2,248) and season (358). He had 222 fights in his 13 NHL seasons, including 43 in 1985-86 during the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup-winning season.
Following his retirement after the 1991-92 season, Nilan had issues with alcohol and drugs, he was arrested for shoplifting and his 25-year marriage dissolved. Nilan says he has been clean and sober for three years, living with his girlfriend on the West Island of Montreal. He recently wrote a book: “Fighting Back: The Chris Nilan story.”
Nilan, now 55, grew up in Boston in the 1970s and fell in love with hockey while watching the Big, Bad Bruins. He made the NHL as a tough guy but worked to develop his game and ended up averaging 20 goals over two seasons in the mid-1980s. He said the drive he used to get him to the NHL came in handy when he hit rock bottom after his career.
“I had a dream of playing in the NHL one day,” he said. “I think the story somewhat reverts back to the things that — I had my transgressions and my drugs after hockey. Through alcoholism and drug addiction, I kind of reached back and used some of those things that drove me and got me to the National Hockey League to get me sober.”
Nilan said his turning point in his fight against addiction came after he started shooting heroin, something he promised himself he would never do.
“I was wrapped up in that for about eight months,” Nilan said. “And that night, sitting on the toilet, I basically overdosed. I woke up probably three hours later. I stood up and I fell forward and hit my head on the wall and knocked myself out again. And when I woke up from that I had I guess what you’d call the gift of desperation. I knew I needed to get help. I was in such a bad place. I was so beaten down; I beat myself down. I made a phone call and asked for help. It was the best move I ever made. … Clean since. And sober.”