From the where are they now file:
The NHL’s 1997 coach of the year has his face pressed up against the glass at Canada Olympic Park 3, watching the Latvian juniors practice and chatting with the Russian team’s press attaché. This is Ted Nolan’s latest venture into the hockey coaching world, an adviser to the junior team this week and next, but primarily here in his capacity as the head coach of Latvia’s senior men’s team for the 2012 world hockey championships.
Nolan is a familiar figure in the hockey world and this is part of the charm of the world juniors - it attracts people from every part of the industry for a two-week gathering and a chance to get caught up with old acquaintances who, this close to another New Year’s Eve, should definitely not be forgotten.
Nolan is one of those, someone who can be liked and admired at the same time. At age 53, he is once again travelling down a new coaching path thanks to a moment of serendipity that unfolded on a Thursday night back in early August when the telephone rang in the Nolan home. It was Latvia calling, out of the blue. Would he be interested in coaching their men’s team? Yes, he would.
“They called on a Thursday night, on Friday we worked out a deal and Monday, I was there,” said Nolan, of the whirlwind courtship.
The connection to Latvia was former NHL goaltender Arturs Irbe. Irbe and Nolan crossed paths many years ago when the latter interviewed for a position with the San Jose Sharks’ organization. Nolan didn’t get the job, but he was there for training camp and met Irbe, who passed along a recommendation to the federation.
So Nolan is trying to immerse himself in all things Latvian, which has rabid fans wherever they happen to play, but is struggling here at the world juniors and coming off a 14-0 loss to Russia in preliminary round action Thursday night. For the Latvian juniors, the goals are modest at this stage: Try and stay in the A group for next year’s tournament, which they’ll get a chance to do during relegation round play next week.
Nolan has more than his share of experience with handling young players. He broke into the coaching ranks with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds back in 1994 and led them to three Memorial Cup finals, winning in 1993. That got him the job in Buffalo, where he was the Jack Adams winner in 1997 as the NHL’s coach of the year, riding Dominik Hasek’s goaltending and Michael Peca’s two-way play to get the rebuilding, overachieving Sabres into the playoffs. A tiff with then GM John Muckler pushed Nolan out a year later, and he didn’t surface in the NHL until the 2006-07 season when he helped the usually hapless New York Islanders to a 92-point season and an unexpected playoff berth. The next year, after the Islanders couldn’t match that result, he was let go again.
Nolan also got to the Memorial Cup final with Moncton in 2006 and lost the championship game to Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts. The gig in Latvia follows three years as the VP of hockey operations with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, which came to an end after Terry Pegula bought the parent team, the Sabres, and changed the administrative structure of their primary farm team.
So now he is handling Latvia, with a mandate “to add a little bit of the North American flavour to their game. I’m looking forward to coaching the world championships. They’re a small country. To stay at this level for as long as they did, it’s pretty impressive.”
Beyond his coaching ventures, Nolan devotes most of his time to the Ted Nolan Foundation, whose mission statement is to promote “healthy lifestyle choices for all aboriginal youth.”