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Chris Nilan was an NHL pro whose task was to intimidate the opponents and thus protect the more technical players (I allow myself to call them “the real hockey players”…) from indecent interference with their ice ballet. “Last Gladiators” describes his career, and uses this to introduce me to a world that is very NHL, a world I admit I did not know about: players exclusively hired for their ability to win a punching match, to stay on their feet while the opponent lies bleeding on the ice. The fact that this is not only accepted as part of NHL culture, but actually expected by everybody watching, as some form of side show to the main event of wondering who scores the most goals, was unexpected, and quite a bit revolting. I grew up watching a lot of international hockey, where that kind of activity is seriously frowned upon, detrimental to the aesthetics of the sport. I stand by it: it is rather despicable to look to deeply into this basement of the NHL, but equally fascinating it is to learn about how it works. The fierce competition among these hit men, the hot breath of the young guns the aging generation feels in their necks, the slave trade between teams, moving players like domino pieces across the continent. I felt like I needed a three-hour reel of best performances by Larionov, Makarov, Jagr, or Gretzky to cleanse myself and regain faith in the beauty of the game…

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_last_gladiators_2011/

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