All Chris Nilan needed to hear from Don Cherry was an apology.
One of three former NHL enforcers labelled “pukes” and “turncoats” by Cherry earlier this month, Nilan says he’s already put the episode behind him. He’s even made peace with the CBC and will appear as a guest judge on the network’s “Battle of the Blades” show this weekend.
“On my end, I didn’t want this to linger,” Nilan said Friday in an interview. “I’ve let it go. To hang on to this would only hurt me in the long run and I was able to forgive him. I understand because I’ve done things in my life that I regretted and I had to apologize for, I had to admit I was wrong and made a mistake.
“I’m not the first, he’s not the first and he won’t be the last to say ‘I’m sorry.”‘
After Cherry apologized for his remarks during last week’s “Coach’s Corner” segment, he followed it up with a call to Nilan.
The two men go back. Nilan played the type of hockey long celebrated by Cherry, fighting roughly 250 times during a NHL career that spanned 688 games with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins between 1980 and 1992.
“He phoned me and we had a good long talk,” said Nilan. “He was always a backer of mine. My views line up with his in a sense.
“I don’t agree with him on everything, but I agree with him on the fighting issue. I believe it should be in the game and not be taken out.”
The offer to appear on “Battle of the Blades” came from executive producer Kevin Albrecht and was welcomed by the 53-year-old Nilan, who is hoping to expand his media career. He already makes regular appearances on TSN Radio 990 in Montreal and hopes to work his way into an analyst or colour commentary job down the road.
“Battle of the Blades” pairs former hockey players with figure skaters for weekly on-ice dance routines. Nilan is no figure skating expert but he’s spent time watching previous episodes of the show in preparation for his appearances Sunday and Monday.
“I just want to be fair and obviously judge what I see out there,” he said.
The only lingering issue stemming from the Cherry incident is Nilan’s concern that the public might misunderstand his views.
During the opening “Coach’s Corner” segment of the season, Cherry accused Stu Grimson, Jim Thomson and Nilan of not wanting current players to make a living as enforcers and criticized them for linking drug and alcohol abuse to that role.
Nilan has been open about his battle with addiction—he endured struggles with alcohol and became hooked on painkillers OxyContin and Percocet after retiring from hockey—but refused to make excuses for those problems.
“I’ve never, ever blamed my addiction and my alcoholism on my role as an enforcer,” said Nilan. “I never blamed it on mommy and daddy and my terrible childhood, I never blamed it on anything. Listen, I got addicted to pills because I had major pain issues after my career ended from the surgeries I had over the years.
“I innocently enough got addicted to (pills) and didn’t know how to get out of it—it took me on a terrible ride. But I don’t blame it on anybody, anything or any place.”
He’s on the road to recovery now and has committed himself to giving back wherever he can.
On Friday, Nilan travelled to a Montreal suburb to sit down with a teenager battling addiction issues. The boy’s father had reached out to him through his Facebook page.
Nilan views sessions like that as an important part of his own recovery—something he continues to work on daily.
“It’s a big part of my life,” he said. “I address that every day I wake up and every night before I go to bed and all day long. I’ll continue to do that for the rest of my life.
“I had a tough go of it—again, I don’t blame anybody—but I’m back on my feet and I intend to stay there.”