BUFFALO -- The last time Ted Nolan coached the Buffalo Sabres was during the 1996-1997 season. The team finished first in the Northeast Division and Nolan won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year. That summer he was out of a job after refusing to sign a one-year contract to continue coaching the team.
Now, 16 years later, Nolan is back with the Sabres as their interim coach following the firing of coach Ron Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier on Wednesday.
Nolan, 55, has been around the world since being let go by the Sabres. He's coached Canadian junior hockey, the New York Islanders, and most recently the Latvian national team, which he will lead at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But Pat LaFontaine, who was named to the new position of president of hockey operations Wednesday, has brought Nolan back. LaFontaine, who played for Nolan in Buffalo, said Nolan was given the interim tag because the Sabres are without a general manager and there needs to be a chain of command. LaFontaine also said he has a short list of GM candidates and will begin the search immediately to fill the position.
"I want to make sure the players know right off the bat there's going to be a change on their part of this," LaFontaine said. "And I said, 'There's one guy I know that can do this, and he's probably never truly been given a chance. The guy was Coach of the Year one time. He knows how to work with younger players.' [Sabres owner Terry Pegula] said to me, 'If you think he's that good and if you think he can help this organization.' So he's putting his trust in me right away."
The opportunity for Nolan to come back to Buffalo was almost too good to be true.
"It was one of those shocking phone calls you didn't think would ever come, and it did," Nolan said. "It's probably the shortest flight I ever went through in my life going from Frankfurt, Germany, over to Toronto and thinking about what I was going to do in the first practice and so forth. It's going to be great."
Nolan ran his first practice Wednesday, two hours after he was named to his position. He will coach his first game Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Out of the League since he was dismissed by the New York Islanders in 2008, Nolan has found perspective on his career and on life.
"The one thing I've learned from past experiences is to really enjoy the moment and enjoy them now," Nolan said. "Right now, [LaFontaine] asked me to come in and evaluate and look and see what we have here, and that's all I'm really going to focus on. Who'd ever predict what happened the last 16 years? I'm going to enjoy this moment and I'm excited to be back here in the great city of Buffalo."
One thing Nolan wants to do with his new team is make things more exciting. The Sabres are 4-15-1 and 30th in the League with nine points. He was in Buffalo on Tuesday to see his son, Jordan Nolan of the Los Angeles Kings, play the Sabres.
"I wasn't too impressed to tell you the truth. It wasn't a very exciting game," Nolan said of the Sabres' 3-2 shootout win. "I've watched too many of those non-exciting games and I think that people spend a lot of hard-earned money to come and watch. The least we can do is entertain them and give them that passion."
Sabres players may have been surprised by the sudden change, but they're excited to get started under Nolan.
"I've only heard great things," Sabres captain Steve Ott said. "I looked at my phone after practice real quick and I had players from all over the League texting me right away saying how great of a guy he is and how you want to work for him. If that gives any motivation to the guys in this room is you want to go through the wall for your coach, and he's one of those guys."
Entertainment and passion shouldn't be hard to come by in the Sabres' next two games, a home-and-home set Friday and Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We're going to be the best that we can be," Nolan said. "Whatever that may be right now I'm not 100 percent sure what it is. But at least you can go out and show what your true colors are."