How Hockey Cult Figure Chris ‘Knuckles’ Nilan Earned His Nickname

How Hockey Cult Figure Chris ‘Knuckles’ Nilan Earned His Nickname

We all know that hockey players have to be tough to go out on the ice every night and fight for their team and their fans. While fights have often broken out on the ice, one player seemed to love a scrap more than most. That was Chris’ Knuckles’ Nilan, and this is how the legendary hockey star earned his nickname.

Starting slowly

It’s fair to say that Chris Nilan didn’t set the world alight when he was a young prospect after being selected as the 231st overall pick in the 1978 draft. He was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens, and little did the Canadian team realize just how iconic the player they had just signed would become. Nilan grew up loving to watch Bobby Orr play hockey, and the right winger dreamed of playing for the Boston Bruins. The NHL star grew up in Boston and knew that one day he wanted to play for his home team.

Establishing himself

After signing for the Canadiens in the late 1970s, Nilan’s status within the team would continue to grow until he became a big part of the roster in the ’80s. During that decade, Nilan gained a reputation for being the tough guy on the team, and boy did he attract a lot of attention from rival players. Growing up in Boston meant that Nilan had to be tough, and he brought that steel and determination to his hockey games.

Fists doing the talking

His nickname ‘Knuckles’ came from the fact that he would regularly let his fists swing during hockey games. He was an enforcer who made sure no opponent ever took advantage of any of his teammates, or himself. Nilan would become very familiar with the sin bin, going on to become one of nine players to register more than 3,000 career penalty minutes. In fact, per game, Nilan holds the record for the longest time spent in the sin bin. His 4.42 penalty minutes per game is an NHL record, that may never be beaten. Knuckles also holds the record for most penalties in a single game, after the ring winger was penalized ten times in a game against the Wailers in 1991.

He wasn’t just a fighter

It wasn’t just about fighting for Nilan on the ice though, he was also a great hockey player. Knuckles was part of the Montreal Canadiens team that won the Stanley Cup in 1986, and he will always be able to wear that championship ring with pride. After playing away from Boston for most of his career, Nilan was able to realize his dream and line up for the Bruins in 1990. By that time, his career was winding down. Eventually, the right winger had to retire due to collecting too many injuries.

Today the former NHL star has opened up about his troubles with addiction following his playing career, and he is involved in many charitable causes. Nilan also hosts his own radio show, ‘Off the Cuff,’ in Montreal, and he remains a cult figure for many hockey fans.