Continuing our quest to only bring you stories with a New York Islanders twist, we are happy to report that former NHL coach Ted Nolan has accepted a position as bench boss for Latvia’s national team. Nolan was a head coach in the NHL for four seasons, two with Buffalo and two with the Islanders. He last coached in the 2007-08 season with the Islanders and was dismissed after the team missed the playoffs with a 35-38-9 record. He was a Jack Adams Award winner with the Buffalo Sabres in 1997.
President of Latvia’s national team said Nolan’s approach to coaching fit what they were looking for:
“We were looking for a neutral, authoritative coach with lots of experience and good hockey knowledge. This is exactly what we found with Ted Nolan.”
Latvia’s best finish at the IIHF World Championship is 7th, which they’ve accomplished three times (1997, 2004 and again in 2009). Nolan inherits a team that finished 13th in 2011 at the World Championship and placed 12th at the 2010 Olympics. Current Latvian NHLers of note include Karlis Skrastins (Dallas) and Raitis Ivanans (Calgary), although Ivanans hasn’t been seen since Steve MacIntyre of the Oilers knocked him out in the season opener.
Nolan will be the first North American coach of the Latvian national team since fellow Canadian Larry Marsh in 1939. Since restoring independence in 1991, the Latvian national teams have been coached either by Latvians or Russians with the exception of Swede Curt Lidström (2002-2004), and Russian has been the main language in coaching for the past seven years.
Nolan’s NHL coaching career was one that was shrouded in some mystery. He famously rejected an offer to stay on as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres after his Jack Adams season and did not return to coaching in the NHL until the Islanders hired him nearly ten years later. He helped the Islanders to the playoffs in 2007 with a 40-30-12 record, but they fell in five games to the Buffalo Sabres in the first round.
A former coach of the year out of work for nearly a decade prompted CBC’s Fifth Estate investigative journalism program to produce a documentary on Nolan’s life and career titled What’s The Score?. Via CBC.ca:
What happened to end his career as an NHL coach was a combination of real personality conflicts and rumours of racism. From the beginning, Nolan clashed with his general manager, John Muckler, who was fired just before Ted Nolan won the Jack Adams trophy. Then, the Buffalo Sabres star goalie, Dominik Hasek, a supporter of Muckler, told a local radio show he did not respect his coach. The Sabres organization made Nolan an offer, a one-year contract renewal, that he felt he couldn’t accept.
Nolan certainly has some work cut out for himself in trying to make Latvia’s national team competitive, but it will be good to see him back behind a bench.