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Latvian job sends Nolan on another hockey adventure

Wednesday, 08.03.2011 / 9:41 PM / Across the Pond

By Lindsay Kramer - NHL.com Correspondent

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Latvian job sends Nolan on another hockey adventure
During the course of his long coaching career, Ted Nolan has heard job pitches from individuals, teams and organizations.

But entire countries? Never.

So when he picked up the phone last week and Latvia was on the line, Nolan was taken aback.

Well, OK, maybe not the entire country, but it seemed that way to him.

Latvia's top hockey officials were interested in hiring him to coach their national team, and Nolan took it with the appropriate amount of reverence.

"You get a call like that from a country, they are the elite of the elite," Nolan told NHL.com on Wednesday from his home on the Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.. "They knew what they were looking for, I guess. You are humbled and honored at the same time. I didn't know how excited I was until I got all the papers signed."

Those pen swipes put Nolan back in the hockey game again -- albeit literally a world away from what he's done in the sport to this point.

The Latvian Hockey Federation signed Nolan to coach its team in preparation for the 2012 World Championships and also to work with its Under-20 and Under-18 teams. Starting at the end of August, the former Buffalo Sabres coach will make several jaunts -- each lasting a few weeks -- to Latvia to assess the nation's younger talent, as well as to piece together the outline of the eventual national squad.

Nolan will be the first North American coach of the Latvian national team since fellow Canadian Larry Marsh in 1939.

"We were looking for a neutral, authoritative coach with lots of experience and good hockey knowledge," Latvian Hockey President Kirovs Lipmans said in a statement on the IIHF website. "This is exactly what we found with Ted Nolan."

Nolan said his deal is for one season, with a mutual two-year option.

"My strength has always been with communication of players," he said. "Now, I get a number of months to get to know them on a personal level, who works with who the best. It's going to be fun," he said. "I told a lot of my friends, I have to get back to hockey to rest. I don't think it's work. You are putting a group together to try to win a championship."

Nolan was 147-140-19-21 as head coach of the Sabres and Islanders, winning the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach in 1997 with Buffalo. For the past two seasons, Nolan was director of hockey operations for the AHL's Rochester Americans. That job, he said, gave him a classroom to learn about the administrative side of the sport.

"I learned the other side of hockey. I enjoyed it," Nolan said. "I worked with an entire staff. I looked at them as my hockey team."

Unfortunately, this summer, Nolan found himself in the familiar position of looking for a job when Rochester, which changed affiliates from Florida to Buffalo in the offseason, let him go after the season. Nolan said he sent inquiries to every NHL team, explaining that he'd be glad to work at any level, from the top to the ECHL.

The response wasn't utter crickets, but it was the next closest thing. Nolan said only one NHL team – he won't say which one -- even had the courtesy to respond that there was nothing available.  

The rejection might have eaten away at him, except that Nolan had coped with almost a decade of it between losing his job with Buffalo in 1997 and hooking on with Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2005.

"Do I have experience in that area? It's one of those areas you don't want to experience too much," he said of disappointment. "I've been sending out resumes for awhile. There doesn't seem to be an interest. You just don't know if it (a job offer) is going to happen. You just have to have faith. Maybe someone down the road can see what you bring to the organization."

Right now, the one with rosy vision is Latvia, home of former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe. Nolan also coached two players from that land when he was in Moncton - Martins Karsums and Oskars Bartulis.

Nolan said the responsibility of developing the skills and representing the hopes of an entire nation doesn't carry any more pressure than working with the much smaller subset of a single team.

"I never felt any pressure in the sport of hockey," he said. "I always called it intense fun."

Nolan said he hasn't given any thought to where these latest fun and games might take his career later. He's following the same advice he gives to young players who ask him about getting ahead in the sport – focus on the present.

"The only thing I've concentrated on my whole life is now. Wherever it leads, who knows?" he said. "The experiences I had, it teaches you to focus on things you control. You have a bad attitude, things aren't going to work out for you."
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