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Standing On His Own

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Near the left corner of Jordan Nolan’s mouth is a prominent scar, the remnant of some long-since-healed hockey injury. The wound certainly didn’t come from a silver spoon.

Nolan certainly has a sterling hockey pedigree. His father, Ted, made the NHL as a winger (for parts of three seasons) and as a head coach (with both Buffalo and the New York Islanders). Older brother Brandon played five seasons in the American Hockey League and had a six-game run in the NHL.

Make no mistake, though. Jordan Nolan’s hockey life has not been one of privilege. His surname, while familiar, has not afforded him any undue opportunities. Rather, Nolan is an NHL player right now, a rookie winger for the Kings, because he got one chance and has made the most of it.

``It’s exciting, so I want to work as hard as I can to stay here,’’ Nolan said.

What a three-year run it has been for Nolan. Drafted in the seventh (and final) round by the Kings in 2009, as a big-hearted, big-bodied forward without great feet or hands, Nolan made the jump to the AHL in 2010 and, last fall, was surprisingly one of the final players cut from the training-camp roster.

Last week, when the Kings needed bodies to replace injured Jarret Stoll and ineffective Dustin Penner, the call went to Manchester.  Monarchs forward Dwight King answered his phone, then knocked on the door of Nolan, his housemate, and delivered the good news: the two were headed to the NHL. Nolan scored a goal in his second NHL game and
became a first-line winger in his fifth game.

In less than three years, Nolan went from being a last-round pick to a first-line winger. It would be enough to make any young player dizzy…but Nolan’s background suggests a lifetime of preparing for this moment.

Nolan is a native of Garden River, Ontario, a small Aboriginal Community located across the river from northern Michigan and not exactly a hockey hotbed. Jordan also grew up, though, in a hockey family.

Ted Nolan was preparing for his first season as a head coach, with the junior-level Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, when Jordan was born in the summer of 1989. Ted Nolan went on to coach in Hartford (1994-95, as an assistant), Buffalo (1995-97) and the New York Islanders (2006-08), which gave young Jordan Nolan a first-hand look at top-level hockey, an invaluable gift for a young player learning the game.

That gift can, under the wrong circumstances, also be a curse, if the father/coach becomes overbearing and never gives the son a breather from hockey, but Jordan said Ted provided the proper balance.

``I think so. Obviously you’re going to talk about certain things after a game, but we tried to keep it pretty normal in our house,’’ Jordan Nolan said. ``We tried not to be big about talking about the game. Once we’re at home, it’s about home life. We don’t get into the
games too much.’’

Brandon Nolan, six years older than Jordan, signed after being drafted by Vancouver in the fourth round in 2003 and bounced between the AHL and ECHL and played six games for Carolina in 2007-08. A concussion ended Brandon Nolan’s career, and he and his wife now live in the Toronto area.

The Nolans’ NHL dreams then fell to Jordan, but those didn’t seem too likely. Nobody questioned Nolan’s physical attributes -- he measures in at 6-foot-3 and roughly 225 pounds -- but in a five-year junior career, Nolan never had more than 23 goals and finished with totals of 149 points and 435 penalty minutes.

Jordan didn’t get drafted until his junior eligibility had expired, and even then, he lasted until the seventh round, when the Kings took him with the 189th overall pick. Nolan, suffice to say, had a lot to prove, and growing up as the son of a former NHL player and coach gave him a good template to follow.

``I just realized what it takes to play in the NHL, and the little things you have to do in order to be successful in life,’’ Nolan said. ``It definitely hasn’t been an easy road for me. I think it took me a little while to kind of figure it out.

``I wasn’t expected to get drafted, in my last year of junior. It was definitely a surprise to get drafted in the seventh round, but also an honor to get drafted.’’

That’s when the work began. Shortly after being drafted, Nolan reported to the ECHL and played three games for the Ontario Reign. The following fall, he made the Manchester Monarchs’ roster and had 17 points and 115 penalty minutes in 75 games. Nolan seemed in danger of being pigeonholed as a player.

Slowly but surely, though, Nolan impressed. He had a good training camp with the Kings before this season. He made an impression in a preseason game with one particularly strong move to the net. Management members would go on scouting trips to Manchester, come back to Los Angeles and comment, without provocation, ``You know who’s
playing really well? Nolan.’’

Nolan had nine goals and 13 assists in 40 games this season before he got the call from the Kings. In search of an offensive shakeup, coach Darryl Sutter put Nolan and King on either side of center Mike Richards on the Kings’ second line. In their second game together, both King and Nolan scored.

From half a world away, Ted Nolan watched his son score his first NHL goal. Ted Nolan is now the coach of Latvia’s national team. So, somewhere in Latvia, in the early-morning hours of Feb. 13, Ted watched his son go to the front of the net, take a centering pass from Richards and score a game-winning goal.

Son and father have communicated by phone, and Brandon Nolan said his father was making plans for a trip to North America to watch Jordan play.

``He has watched a few games (via computer),’’ Nolan said. ``He’s just trying to make me feel good about myself, saying I worked hard out there, and just to keep it going.’’

How long can Nolan keep it going? He had to receive a boost of confidence a few days ago, when the Kings -- needing to free up a roster spot -- chose to put veteran winger Trent Hunter on waivers rather than send Nolan back to the AHL.

In the long term, Nolan probably projects as a bottom-six winger. Then again, presumptions have been made about Nolan’s potential before, and they have turned out to be incorrect.

``I had to work hard to get that (entry-level) contract,’’ Nolan said. ``I had to work hard to get to the American League and then I had to work hard to get called up here. It feels good, to have your dream happen.’’
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