Ted Nolan has had a difficult and fraught coaching career at the top level of hockey but having stayed true to himself and his beliefs, he’s made his way back into the NHL and earned respect from the hockey world.
The well documented bust-up with Dominik Hašek in Buffalo, along with the GM John Muckler who took the side of his superstar goaltender, led to Nolan’s acrimonious departure from the Sabres in 1997.
All this despite the team having success with a less than stellar team.
Nolan would be offered head coaching and assistant coaching jobs in the space of a year with Tampa and NYI but declined both.
He fell off the hockey planet until becoming a part of the Moncton Wild Cats organisation in 2005 and would not be offered another job in the NHL until a year later, a full eight years after the last offer from the New York Islanders.
Some speculated it was down to his less than popular reputation amongst GM’s after his acrimonious relationship with Muckler, while other conjectured that it was outright racism, with Nolan being of aboriginal background.
It was as a sad day when in December of 2005, Nolan was the victim of racial harassment during a Wildcats road game against the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. Fans in the stands shouted racial slurs and directed gestures about his heritage toward him. Fans continued to taunt the Moncton coach outside the arena after the game as he boarded the team bus with his players.
Nolan would join the New York Islanders in 2006 after seeing out his full duties with Moncton.
It was not a particularly great start for him as team owner Charles Wang, who personally hired Nolan by all accounts, was then criticised for hiring a new GM at the same time and not allowing that man, Neil Smith, to appoint his own coach.
The arrangement only lasted a month as Smith was fired and in came Garth Snow.
Nolan took the team back to the playoffs in his first season but the second was less successful and
on July 14, 2008 he was fired.
He would spend the next two years as Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Rochester Americans before his position was made redundant.
Some might have forgiven him for having had enough of hockey and perhaps taking another break but in August of 2011, the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation announced they had appointed Nolan as their new head coach of their national hockey team.
In hindsight this was a masterstroke from both parties involved.
A set of players who had never really achieved much and certainly had never been shown much love in the hockey world and on the other hand a coach who feels like he had been mistreated in North America and with plenty to prove.
The new start for both made a successful start as he coached the team to 10th and 11th place
at the 2012 and 2013 IIHF World Championships respectively.
The resulting finish in 2012 meant that Latvia would host their final Olympic qualifying group in February of 2013.
As GB qualified to be in that group, I paid closer attention than I would normally have, and Latvia were impressive, in crushing GB by a 6-2 score line in their opening game. A hard fought victory over Kazakhstan and then fighting back to claim a point against France was enough to see Latvia through to the Olympic Games.
Ted Nolan’s work with Latvia wasn’t going unnoticed it seems.
With his focus on this years Olympics, he must have been surprised to take a phone call from the Buffalo Sabres. With the carnage taking place in the Buffalo organisation and the firing of Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier, Nolan was named the interim head coach on November 13, 2013.
His impact was an immediate victory over Toronto but reality followed as the team lost five straight in a 2-8-2 stretch.
In what is pretty much a mission impossible job this season, he’s at least given the organisation some pride and respectability back, and his team has responded somewhat with an 8-11-5 record after a rough start.
His moulding of a team, getting them to play for him and fight for the jersey has been the one thing that has stuck out whilst watching Latvia compete at these 2014 Olympic games.
They may have lost every group game but they were far from embarrassed.
A heart breaking loss to Switzerland with the game winner scored with just eight seconds remaining was followed by a 4-2 reverse at the hands of the Czech’s, although Latvia fought back twice to tie the game up. A final 5-3 defeat to Sweden (who will contest the Gold medal) left Latvia with a qualification playoff game against Switzerland. A stunning 3-1 victory over the Swiss gave them the opportunity of a quarter final match up with the reigning Olympic champions Canada.
No one in the hockey world gave Latvia a cat in hells chance of winning this game, let alone keeping it close, but after Patrick Sharp gave Canada a lead, Latvia shocked everyone by tying the game up two minutes later and it was a well worked goal.
They may have been reliant on the outstanding goaltending of AHL rookie Kristers Gudlevskis but the Latvian’s stuck to their plan and every player on that bench had bought into the team ethos that Nolan put in place.
Making the most of talent at your disposal as a coach is a quality that should hopefully see Ted Nolan feature in the NHL for years to come.