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Nilan drops gloves over shoplifting charge

CHRIS NILANAllegedly stole swimsuit CHRIS NILANAllegedly stole swimsuit (File/Bill Brett/For The Globe)
By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / July 18, 2009
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BRAINTREE - Yet again, Chris Nilan went out fighting. Seventeen years after he ended his multimillion-dollar hockey career, the former NHL enforcer engaged in a bloody brawl with two security workers Wednesday as he allegedly tried to walk away from the South Shore Plaza wearing a purloined Tommy Bahama swimsuit under his shorts.

The former fan favorite got as far as the sidewalk outside Lord & Taylor before two loss prevention agents tried to detain him, according to a Braintree police report. By the time police restored order, “Knuckles’’ Nilan, his friend, James P. McGettrick Jr., and the two store workers were bleeding from their faces.

“Wow, that was really Chris Nilan,’’ said Steven LoRusso, a Quincy maintenance worker who witnessed the altercation. “It was like I remembered watching him fight when I was a kid.’’

This time, however, Nilan landed in Cell No. 2 at the Braintree police station instead of the penalty box. And though Nilan’s shoplifting charge was dismissed Thursday in Quincy District Court on the condition that he pay $100 in court fees, the incident is the latest involving athletes who once were handsomely paid and now are down on their luck (see also, Antoine Walker and Lenny Dykstra).

Nilan, 51, who grew up in West Roxbury and played for Catholic Memorial and Northeastern before he spent 13 seasons in the NHL with the Canadiens, Bruins, and Rangers, allegedly acknowledged that what he did “was stupid’’ and admitted stealing the swimsuit because “I just wanted to save a few bucks,’’ according to Braintree police.

A pair of Tommy Bahama swim trunks is listed for $49.99 (on sale) on the Lord & Taylor website.

Nilan declined to comment. His parents, Henry and Leslie Nilan, expressed deep frustration over the incident, which they described as the latest in a series of unfortunate episodes involving their unemployed son.

LoRusso said the Lord & Taylor security workers overreacted and threw the first punches at Nilan and McGettrick. A former Norfolk County corrections officer, McGettrick spent more than six months at the Brockton Addiction Treatment Center in 2007 while he was on pretrial probation on charges that he distributed the narcotic Oxycodone near a school.

LoRusso said the security workers knocked Nilan to the ground and repeatedly punched him. Things changed when Nilan stood up, according to LoRusso, 37, who described himself as a recovering addict.

“That’s when Chris Nilan went into hockey mode,’’ LoRusso said. “He tagged both those guys pretty good and they started backing up. That’s when the police showed up.’’

Nilan’s father took no comfort from the allegation that Nilan struck back only after he was attacked. The elder Nilan suggested the outcome could have been far worse, citing an Abington man who is facing a manslaughter charge for allegedly punching a former Marine to death during a recent dispute over a barking dog. “He was wrong in doing what he did,’’ Henry Nilan said of his son. “And he was wrong to retaliate.’’

A manager at Lord & Taylor referred questions about the incident to corporate headquarters, which did not respond to phone messages.

The police report differed a bit from LoRusso’s version of the incident. Though the responding officer quoted Nilan as saying he was trying to defend himself, the report alleged that Nilan was taken to the ground after he assumed a fighting stance and resisted efforts to detain him.

The confrontation began after the loss prevention crew allegedly watched Nilan and McGettrick carry three pairs of shorts into a dressing room and return with only two pairs. The workers followed Nilan and McGettrick to a mall restaurant, where they argued until they went outside and the dispute turned violent.

A police officer who booked Nilan reported discovering the former hockey player wearing the Tommy Bahama swimsuit - light blue with a dark blue stripe - under his shorts. Nilan, who is divorced and lives in a Milton apartment, also was carrying $601 and a credit card, according to police.

McGettrick, 43, of South Weymouth, who described himself as an unemployed construction worker, was charged with shoplifting as part of an alleged joint venture. The charge against him also was dismissed after he paid $100 in court costs.

Nilan won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986. One of the most penalized players in NHL history - 3,043 minutes in 688 games - he holds the league record for most penalties in a game (10), which he set in 1991 with the Bruins against the Hartford Whalers.

After he retired in 1992, Nilan worked in community relations for John Hancock for three years and opened an insurance agency. He returned to hockey as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils in the 1995-96 season, and later coached in the minor leagues. He listed his occupation on the police custody report as unemployed hockey player.

The judge ordered him to stay out of Lord & Taylor.

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.

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