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Coach’s Kid

by Doug Ward / Los Angeles Kings

Jordan Nolan never bothered scanning those ice rink bulletin boards, the ones lined with flyers advertising coaches-for-hire and offering one-to-one tutelage from expert instructors who are guaranteed to take your game the next level.

As the son of former Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders Head Coach Ted Nolan, the Kings’ rugged winger had his own personal tutor available at the dinner table every night…and the relationship helped make the Nolan the player he has become.

“My father is always pushing me to get better and always there to support me if I have something to talk about,” Jordan, 25, said. “If I’m not working hard, he’ll let me know.”

Jordan found himself in unusual position of playing against his father’s team twice this season when the Kings faced the Buffalo Sabres, October 23 at STAPLES Center, and again, December 9, in Buffalo. The Kings and Sabres split the two games with the home team prevailing each time.

Ted Nolan, 56, was in his first full season of his second tour of duty with the Sabres. After winning Coach of the Year honors with Buffalo in 1996-97, Nolan and the Sabres were unable to come to terms on a contract extension, and the Sabres ultimately pulled their offer.

So the elder Nolan moved on. In addition to coaching Jordan’s bantam team, Ted went on to coach Moncton of the QMJHL, the Islanders and even the Latvian National Team before returning to Buffalo last season. He left the Sabres (again) earlier this month.

That father and son were able to compete against each other, however, with Ted behind the Buffalo bench and Jordan competing with the defending Stanley Cup Champions was always a bit of a long shot.

“We never expected this to happen,” Jordan said.

Certainly, Ted Nolan never expected to get a second crack at coaching the Sabres.

“For him to get another chance and to be back in Buffalo was pretty special,” Jordan said. “It is pretty remarkable.”

The improbability of the meetings between father and son made them all the more special for Jordan.

“He knows a lot about the game,” Jordan told the Buffalo News. “I’m always trying to impress him, I’d say, and I’m always looking for advice. Whenever he’s in the building, I think I push a little harder because I want to make him proud and show him what I’ve got.”

There was no guarantee Jordan would have enough to ever get to the NHL at all. He was a seventh round draft choice (186th overall) in 2009, and has made his mark in the league more with a work ethic and grinding style than skill.

Jordan wasted no time in showing the Kings what he had to offer after being recalled from Manchester in February of 2012. The additions of the younger Nolan’s physical play and the similar attributes of Dwight King were big parts of the Kings’ first Stanley Cup win.

Ted and his wife, Sandra, were on the STAPLES Center ice for the Kings’ Stanley Cup celebrations in both 2012 and 2014.

“I’ve been fortunate to do some things in life, but nothing compares to watching your son do it,” Ted told NHL.com. “I never would have dreamed about this in my life. I was nervous. I was a parent. That was a great feeling, to watch your son go through something like this – being a parent versus being a coach and walking through it with him. It was a great experience and I’ll never forget it.”

Fittingly, after winning that first Cup in 2012, Jordan took it back to his family’s summer home in Garden River, Ontario. As proud members of the Garden River Ojibwe First Nation, Nolan made sure the day included a nod to the family’s heritage.

“I think anything with First Nation people is always a big step,” Jordan said. “There are not too many of us that are in sports, so to have one of their own win the Stanley Cup and be successful and be able to share it with First Nation people, it’s a pretty big thing. That was my main goal in bringing it back, sharing it with Garden River and the First Nation people and letting them enjoy it.”

After winning the Stanley Cup for the second time last spring, Jordan once again opted to spend his day with the Cup in Garden River.

“To bring it back here and celebrate is fun,” Jordan said.

With less than 200 regular season games played in the NHL, Jordan has twice been a champion. His father played parts of three seasons in the NHL with Detroit and Pittsburgh, and has coached in six different seasons without winning hockey’s ultimate prize, so deep down, Jordan knows it’s not so easy.

Still, the magnitude of two Cups in three years is hard for Jordan to fathom.

“It hasn’t kicked in yet,” Jordan said. “But, definitely, at the end of my career, I’m going to realize that this was a special time and it doesn’t always happen.”

Nolan said the second time around was every bit as sweet as the first. And, truth be told, the second Cup win was much more taxing than the first.

“The first time, it seemed like we were almost destined to win it. In 2014, it was a good competition.”

It was also a nice reminder of what’s possible.

“That trophy represents what he has done for the last number of years and the work that he has committed into,” Ted said. “And to prove to the rest of the community and to First Nation kids across North America that anything is possible. It doesn’t matter where you are from.”

Jordan told LAKingsInsider.com that he entered the 2014-15 season determined to play his best hockey this season. After appearing in just three games during last year’s playoffs, Nolan responded by committing his summer to hard work.

“I wasn’t playing too much in the end of the playoffs,” Nolan said, “so I was already lifting pretty hard and keeping myself ready to get in there. I took a few weeks off and then I picked it back up and I probably started a little better than some of the other guys because they played quite in the playoffs, so I had a little bit of an advantage.”

Nolan’s individual hopes for this past season were as simple and straightforward as his no-frills brand of hockey. Nolan’s 2014-15 campaign saw the 220-pounder tie his career high with six goals over 60 games played.

In late February, he inked a three-year contract extension with the Kings.

“Just go out there, play your game, work hard,” Nolan said. “Your job is to play hard and show the coaches what you can do, and it’s up to them for the rest.”

One coach, in particular, has already done plenty.

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