When hockey players decide to hang up their skates, their desire to stay connected to the sport they played and were so very passionate about since childhood, is still as strong as ever before. Some end up working directly with their respective teams, while some decide to work on the other side of the microphone as TV or radio analysts. Many Habs alums now cover the Canadiens in one way or another, and we caught up with a few of them to learn more about their transition to the media. This week, Chris Nilan shares his path to working for TSN Radio 690.
Take us through the process of you ending up working in media. Was it you or the network that really got things going?
CHRIS NILAN: It started a few years ago when I was doing hits on Mitch Melnick’s show. I was living in Oregon back then and I was watching the games. He’d have me on to talk about it the next day on his show. During that time, we chatted a few times about doing more on the radio. A little after that, I moved back to Montreal and I met some people at TSN Radio and they saw I was serious about it. They first gave me an opportunity on the show, Habs This Week, and I continued appearing on Melnick in the Afternoon. Eventually, they made a change and I got the opportunity to have my own show. I’m very grateful that they had faith in me and they were willing to give me a chance even though a lot of things had happened to me in the past. A lot of people aren’t willing to do that.
Did you ever think you’d be on the other side of the microphone and that your role would be reversed? Do you enjoy it?
CN: Yes and no. I always had fun doing interviews during my career. But, did I think I would be conducting them one day? Not necessarily. It was a nerve-wracking experience at the beginning because you have to do a job as well as be effective and informative. It took me a while to get used to the radio business. A lot of people think you can just talk away, but it’s much more than that. Even if I knew that, I’ve never been as nervous as the night before my first show.
What did you think of the media during your playing days? Has your opinion of them changed now?
CN: It’s like anything, you have certain guys you trust and that you feel more comfortable with. My perception of the media world was and still is the same today – they can’t help the team win. They can only hurt a team, and it’s the same today. I’m not going to help the Canadiens. I can be as gratuitous and nice about the team as I want, but it won’t matter. I can say negative things about the team and it still won’t matter. I’m not going to help them. Will it hurt them? Maybe on the public side, but people have their own opinion about the team. I think I’m more than fair because I understand what the players are living since I’ve been on that side. I keep that in mind when I talk about players because I’m not there to put them down. The one thing that bothered me when I was a player - and it still bothers me today – is when a guy doesn’t work. If the guy doesn’t work, I’ll let him know. I understand that guys can’t be on top of their game every night, but a great player and a great coach once told me that you can have a bad game once every 10 games. That’s eight games a year. The rest of the time you better be on your game. That coach was Jacques Lemaire. Is that too much to expect? I don’t think it is to expect them to come to work every night and give their best.
How do you find analyzing or breaking down the way your former team plays? Is it tough to be impartial?
CN: I guess I’m not as critical because I know what it’s like to make mistakes and to screw up. I also know what it’s like to play well and have everything go your way. I’ve always been a Canadiens fan. There’s nobody – and I mean nobody – that has more loyalty and love for this organization than me. I challenge anybody who played here to come close to mine. Yes, I have to comment on the team, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see them do well and it doesn’t mean that I’m against them.
Do you think all former athletes really do make good broadcasters and analysts?
CN: Not necessarily. There are a lot of people who never played the game that I think understand and can explain what’s going on. They might see the game differently from what I do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. Listen, who am I not to respect that?
While you were still playing, which city’s journalists did you like the most and like the least?
CN: There wasn’t one in particular, maybe Boston because I was from there and I knew some of the characters. But, there wasn’t a city where you were more under scrutiny than right here in Montreal. Like I said, there was some who were fair, and there were some people who had a dagger as a pen.
What is the most embarrassing question you’ve ever been asked during your playing days?
CN: Here’s the deal. There’s nothing anybody can ask me that will embarrass me. Have I heard some stupid questions? Yeah. That’s why when I do interviews now, I try to put myself on the other side and I ask myself what questions I wouldn’t want to be asked. I try to keep it simple. I’m no Dan Rather and I don’t want to be one. I’m not there to reveal any secrets or scoops. I just want to be myself.
Interview conducted by Hugo Fontaine.
On the other side of the microphone with... Jose Theodore
On the other side of the microphone with ... Mathieu Darche