When you think of an enforcer in the NHL, you think of fighting, hard-hitting and maybe the odd cheap shot. The career of an enforcer is never an easy one and can even cause someone to make some bad personal choices in life. If you have a nickname like “Knuckles”, chances are you are not a soft-handed goal scorer.
Chris “Knuckles” Nilan was a member of the Canadiens from 1979 to 1988 before being sent to the New York Rangers. In this first stint with the Habs, he won the Stanley Cup in 1985-86 and also had a few impressive offensive seasons. The Boston, Massachusetts native scored 21 goals in 1984-85 and 19 goals in his cup winning 1985-1986 season. All this while terrorizing opponents who dared enter his personal space. After 2 and a half seasons in New York, Nilan found himself in his hometown of Boston before coming back to Montreal where he finished off his career as a player in the second half of the 1991-1992 season.
After retiring, Nilan found himself behind the bench of the New Jersey Devils as an assistant coach. From there he could directly stare at the penalty box in which he spent a major part of his playing career. He spent one season with the Devils before becoming the head coach of the Chesapeake Icebreakers of the ECHL.
Nilan wasn’t really heard from after that with the exception of trying to save a few bucks on a pair of shorts until he was called out by his friend, Don Cherry in 2011. This whole instigator debate caused a rift in their friendship. Cherry apologized for his comments publicly, which was the only time he has ever done so. Their friendship has been repaired as Chris has stated so himself.
However, the real story begins with the work that Nilan is doing now. He is giving back to the community and is a part of many charity events. These events help victims of violence, childern and the disabled. I began following him on Twitter (@KnucklesNilan30) and saw the various events he was attending. I then checked out his website, www.knucklesnilan.com and found he was doing tons of work using his celebrity status to help bring awareness to different causes. He is available to speak and attend events for businesses as well. No, this does not mean you can hire him to come and speak at your next convention and knock your boss out. Come on, I know you went there.
Until I was trying to get a Happy Birthday retweet for my son from a member or former member of the Habs, our paths never really crossed except cheering him on while being a Hab. This changed on a July day this year. My son is a type 1 diabetic who has found an outlet in playing hockey. It’s not easy being a child who has medical issues, limited to no contact with his mom and having a dad 12 hours away. He is also a die hard Habs fan and has a wall of Montreal Canadiens memorabilia. Living 12 hours by car away, I was hopeful to receive a response. Mr. Nilan went above and beyond what was expected as he sent an autographed picture for him. Such a small gesture made a huge impact on my son. For someone to take the time and touch my child’s heart and make him happy, is priceless. My son will be here next week to spend the week with me and I will give him his photo then. He has been on a hockey kick in the last 2 weeks and practicing twice a day.
So publicly, Knuckles, I’m calling you out for being a class act! Merci/Thank you.