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Spur of the moment move leaves a lasting legacy

Thursday, 01.15.2009 / 10:00 AM / 2009 NHL All-Star Game

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Few will ever forget Owen Nolan's classic Babe Ruth impersonation during the 1997 NHL All-Star Game.

It occurred in front of his hometown fans in San Jose, where he spent eight of his 17 NHL seasons. After scoring two second-period goals in an All-Star record eight seconds, Nolan would put the finishing touches on his natural hat trick in dramatic fashion in the third.

After collecting a loose puck at the opposing blue line, he broke in on Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek, raised his right arm and called his shot to the top long-side corner while gliding into the left-wing circle. He then fired the puck high to the glove side and into the twine with 2:03 remaining to the surprise of everyone in attendance.

"It was just kind of spontaneous really," Nolan told NHL.com. "It was nothing planned. It just seemed right since I had two goals earlier in the game and I didn't know if I was going to get another shift after that so it just seemed right and I was fortunate enough that it went in."

Unfortunately for Nolan and his Western Conference teammates, the goal couldn't help overcome a large deficit in an 11-7 loss to the Eastern Conference.

It was certainly a special moment for the five-time NHL All-Star, who signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild in July. The veteran has played with seven different teams totaling over 1,000 career games, has collected over 800 points and more than 1,700 penalty minutes.

Only time will tell if another player participating in All-Star festivities will ever have the courage to call their shot and, if they do, even score on the play. Whether it happens again or not, Nolan will always be regarded as the player who set the bar.

Wild coach Jacques Lemaire is glad Nolan is around to offer his experience. In 24 games with the Wild, he has 10 goals, 16 points and a plus-1 rating. He's also tied for the team lead with 6 power-play goals and 3 game-winners.

"Owen's a guy with experience and has been through a lot of stuff in his life," Lemaire said. "He knows what it takes to win and knows what it takes to lose and he's trying to bring that experience to our team now. We have a lot of young guys and I think he's a great voice for these kids with that experience he does have. And on top of that, he's still having success which is even better."

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and raised in Thorold, Ont., the 36-year-old Nolan was actually a late-bloomer.

"I have to credit my friends because I never really skated until I was around 9-years-old," Nolan said. "I played street hockey and stuff, but there was a frozen pond behind our houses and all my friends were out skating. One day, I was the only one without skates so my mom went to a second-hand store and bought me a pair; they were these black and yellow ... ugly things. She bought them for $10 and I put them on and took to the game from that point."

His finest season was in 1999-00 with San Jose when he established career highs in goals (44) and points (84). He also posted 8 goals and 10 points in 10 playoff games that spring. Injuries and age have caught up with Nolan since his glory years in Quebec, Colorado and San Jose, but he still has a desire to play and compete at the highest level.

"I still love to compete and I think the thing that drives me is a chance at winning the Cup," Nolan said. "I haven't been able to accomplish that yet and I'd like to get one under my belt before I call it a day."

Of course, he'd like to be healthy and on the ice should that moment come. Lately, he's been suffering from the "wandering bruise."

"The wandering bruise has affected me not only this year, but every day," he said. "It just seems like when one injury gets heeled, the bruise moves on to the next spot the very next day and that's why I call it the wandering bruise. It's a nice reminder that I play and have remained in the game."

Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom is glad Nolan can share his experiences in the locker room.

"He's a guy who has seen a lot of hockey and he's scored some big goals for us," Backstrom said. "He's a big physical body out there and a veteran in this room. He's seen hockey and it's good to have a guy who's really experienced and knows what you need to do. He tells some really good stuff in the locker room like when we need to focus and remain calm. He really prepares us for the battle."

"It was just kind of spontaneous really. It was nothing planned. It just seemed right since I had two goals earlier in the game and I didn't know if I was going to get another shift after that so it just seemed right and I was fortunate enough that it went in." -- Owen Nolan
Despite being the elder statesman on the team, Nolan likes what he sees in current 25-year-old captain Mikko Koivu.

"He's provided great leadership by playing hard every night and setting an example," Nolan said. "When a guy plays that hard and competes, you almost feel guilty if you can't keep up. I've been around a long time and in a lot of different situations and he knows my door is always open if he needs to handle certain situations he's not sure of. But I think he's shown great leadership skills and is certainly going to have a great career."

Not too bad a compliment from a player who has experienced quite a run himself.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.