Nolan was raised on the Garden River Reserve near Sault Ste. Marie, and had a 10-year professional career, divided between the NHL (78 games) and the AHL (374 games, 280 points). He began the foundation in 2004 after his mother, Rose, was killed by a drunk driver, and is constantly on the prowl to raise funds to improve educational opportunities for aboriginal youth and to immerse them in physical activity. According to the foundation’s website, “self-esteem is at the base of it all; (and) his programs are interwoven with values inherent in First Nations’ rich heritage.”
Recently, the Ted Nolan Foundation entered into a five-year partnership with the Tim Hortons Children's Foundation, which will permit about 50 aboriginal children to annually attend a camp, focusing on leadership skills.
“I’ve been doing presentations since I was 23,” said Nolan. “I was the first kid from the native community back home to ever make it so they wanted to know how I made it. So I broke down some things - about perseverance, about overcoming obstacles, about how to have a plan and then stick to it. All these places I go, I try to speak to some of the top corporate guys in North America.”
One example: During his time coaching Moncton, Nolan met Robert Irving, of the Irving family, and says he learned a lot about how “having the right people, having a goal, and how you communicate with people.
“I’ve coached 12-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids,” he pauses here, to smile, “28-year-old kids, 35-year-old kids. Everybody needs direction.”
Right now, Nolan is providing direction to Latvian youth. On one of his first visits to Latvia in the summer, Nolan was at a rink and had a tap on the shoulder and turned around and there was Brad McCrimmon, in the house with his Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team, playing in a preseason Kontinental Hockey League tournament. The two, who played against each in the pros, visited the way any two North American ex-patriots do on foreign soil and at the end of the conversation, Nolan asked him how it was going. Good, McCrimmon told him, except for one thing.
“He said, ‘training camps here are forever.’”
What a bizarre turn of events then - that Yaroslavl’s plane went down just as the KHL regular season was about to start.
For Nolan, preparation time is what makes his current assignment so unique. Mostly, in junior or the pros, coaches are so focused on the moment - the next game, the next practice, the next shift. Here, he says, “I have eight months to prepare for one tournament,” he said. “Eight months to decide how are we going to run training camps, and how are we going to translate my systems into Latvian to make it easier for the players. Ninety per cent of the players speak English, so it won’t be that hard.
“This is one of the greatest hockey jobs ever.”
Latvia has been on the fringes of the senior world A pool for years, one of the former Soviet republics that has produced, among others, Irbe, Sandis Ozolinsh, Sergei Zholtok and most recently Raitis Ivanans for NHL teams.
“I think they’ve proven they can play at a certain level,” said Nolan. “Now, to make the next step - to compete against Sweden, to compete against Canada. They have a great program for kids, so there’s no sense re-inventing the wheel.”
But according to Nolan, what they need is someone in the pipeline that they can excited about.
“They’ve had some good players, but to have a special guy? Maybe that’s coming. It’s not there yet. This (Zemgus Girgensons) kid is rated in the first round. He’s a pretty good player.”