By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Ted Nolan’s circuitous career in the NHL – one which he’s experienced incredible success as a coach albeit in only four seasons – has brought him nearly full circle.
Some 25 years after being the captain of the Rochester Americans, Nolan has returned to the Panthers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate to help restore the team’s history and excitement.
Nolan, the NHL’s Jack Adams Award winner while coach of the Sabres in 1996-97, called the Amerks “one of the most storied franchises in American Hockey League history,” recently after being named July 1 the team’s VP of Hockey Operations.
And Nolan aims to bring that tradition back to the Amerks.
“It was a great place to play, and now we want to give them (the fans) something to cheer about and get that excitement back,” he added.
Nolan is another step in the right direction for the Amerks. While he’s been described by some as an enigma, he’s also a winner. Although he’s coached only four seasons in the NHL since 1995, he led the Sabres and Islanders to the playoffs in two of those four seasons while producing three winning records. And in his only season coaching in the minors, he led Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) to the finals of the Memorial Cup.
Now Nolan has moved from behind the bench to the front office, and he’s excited about his opportunity.
“I’m going to be working with hockey operations and kind of overseeing the whole structure of the hockey end,” Nolan said. “I’ll be dealing with Florida, with the affiliation agreement, and with the players. I’ll also do a lot of work on corporate sponsorship, something I’ve had a lot of experience in with my (Ted Nolan) Foundation. That’s always excited me.
“If you have a good product to sell, it’s not that hard.”
The Amerks have struggled the past two seasons. They were 26-46-6-4 in 2007-08. After starting off last season 5-20-0-2, the Amerks finished 29-43-0-8. If there’s a person to help turn things around, Nolan is the guy.
A fifth-round draft pick of the Red Wings in 1978, Nolan spent the majority of the next five seasons playing with Adirondack of the AHL in-between 60 games with the Red Wings. In 1984-85, his only season with the Amerks, Nolan served as team captain while scoring 62 points (28 goals).
While Nolan’s greatest success in hockey has been coaching, he calls his appointment to the Amerks a historic day for both himself and team owner Curt Styres.
Styres is the first First Nation person to own a professional sports franchise, and Nolan, also a First Nation person, was being introduced as a vice president. The significance wasn’t lost on Nolan.
“I was very thankful and proud when I had a chance to coach in the NHL with the Sabres and Islanders,” he said. “This was a little different because of the fact you’re working for a First Nation person and the first First Nation-owned hockey club. So, historically, it’s great. Before, we were sitting on the outside trying to get in. Now we’re at the head table and having a say in the development of this league.”
Styres, who purchased the Amerks in the spring of 2008, is ecstatic about Nolan’s involvement with the team.
“Ted Nolan has been an inspiration for First Nations/Native American youth for many years,” Styres said. “We will work together to continue to rebuild the championship tradition that we all know as Amerks hockey here in Rochester.”
Nolan has been provided a good start of rebuilding that tradition by the Panthers, who signed AHL all-star forward Jeff Taffe, defenseman Clay Wilson and drafted 19-year-old forward Scott Timmins
“Those players signed with Florida to make the Panthers, and you want those players to play at that level,” Nolan said. “If they don’t, if they play in the minors, I don’t think Rochester takes a back seat to anyone.”
Nolan, whose Foundation will hold its first annual First Nation Youth Leadership Camp this fall in partnership with the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation, says he still thinks about coaching or becoming a GM on the NHL level. But he’s not looking past this season with the Amerks.
“We all grow and learn at different times,” Nolan said. “Certainly, coaching is still in my blood. Even when I was out of the game for nine years, people asked if I was still interested in coaching. I never got a call for nine years, but I still wanted to be a coach.
“One thing I learned growing up is patience and working with what you have now, and right now I’m working with the Amerks and my full attention is there. I can’t predict what’s going to happen next week or tomorrow. The only thing I’m worried about today is the Amerks. If something else happens…who knows?”