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Former Wing Nolan guides upstart Latvia

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

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Mike Babcock won’t be the only coach with ties to the Red Wings’ organization when Canada and Latvia face-off in Wednesday’s quarterfinals at the Sochi Olympics.

Buffalo Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan led Latvia to just its third-ever Olympic victory with a stunning 3-1 upset win over Switzerland Tuesday night at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. It was Latvia’s first Olympic win since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

By now most of the hockey world knows how Nolan became Latvia’s coach when a friend of his called to tell him that the Baltic country was looking for a coach. Nolan got the job in 2011 and led the Latvians to the qualification round last February where they secured a spot in this month’s 12-team Olympic tournament.

A former NHL left winger, Nolan was originally drafted by the Red Wings in the fifth round of the 1978 amateur draft. After three-plus seasons in the minor leagues, Nolan reached the NHL during the 1981-82 season, producing four goals and 17 points in 41 games with the Red Wings. He eventually played parts of two seasons in Detroit, though much of his playing career was spent with the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League.

In 1988, three years after his playing career ended, Nolan returned to the game as a mid-season coaching replacement for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, a team he once played for. Nolan coached the Greyhounds to three straight Memorial Cup berths where they won the Canadian junior championship in 1993.

In 1997, Nolan received the NHL’s Jack Adams Award for leading the Sabres to a 40-win season and a return trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. So far this season, Nolan has guided the Sabres to an 11-19-7 record since he was named interim coach on Nov. 13

Faced with an uphill Olympic battle in a very tough preliminary group, Nolan’s Latvian team has played everybody tight, including prelim losses to Sweden (5-3), the Czech Republic (4-2) and Switzerland (1-0).

This time Latvia took its first lead into an intermission when they scored two first-period goals against the Swiss before retreating to a protected-the lead mode. The strategy worked against the Swiss as Latvia advances in the tournament to face Canada in the Olympics for the first time since 1936.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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