Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ted Nolan's most excellent Sochi Adventure!

For Ted Nolan, no matter where the NHL season in Buffalo may go (and indications are it won't be a pretty finish) his highlight reel for the season comes from Sochi, February 2014.

Wednesday, Nolan's Latvian squad, rose to the occasion against the power house Canadian team of these Sochi Olympics and as he's done many times in the past, he made believers out of a band of players probably best known to the Riga telephone operators and not many more, turning the Latvian collective into a near Giant Killer.

The fingerprints of Nolan were all over this Latvian team, the hard physical play, the sacrifice of the body to block shots, a high compete level, the ability to get into the heads of the Canadians just a little bit.

All of it on Wednesday, aided in great measure from his young goal tender Kristers Gudlevskis, who had a game for the ages and brought his team along for the ride.

Nolan's portion of that ride, at the head of his Latvian squad is the kind of story that gives you a good feeling about the game. A reminder that every once and a while, the hockey Gods reward all those with patience.

And no one will argue that Ted Nolan has been very patient awaiting his reward.

The mystery of his banishment from the NHL for as long as he was in exile is the kind of thing that raises an eyebrow about the clubby world of coaching and managing in the league, a collection of back scratching and hand shakes that we imagine leaves many a good would be coach on the sidelines.

For Nolan, time served as part of the Latvian Olympic program was the bridge back to the NHL from his exile from North American hockey.  His work through his time with the Eastern European team some pretty clear evidence, that the guy can still coach and we suspect always could.

Motivation and honest effort have always been his strengths, his players accountable to themselves and their coach, a combination that brings teams together and gives players cause to leave everything on the ice.

During the post game press conference with Team Canada's Mike Babcock, we received a sample of his quiet confidence in the players he coaches, what he askes for and what he receives, all things that his teams build on and in the case of Latvia have embraced.

For Canadian hockey fans, while no doubt relieved that Team Canada finally persevered to push back the near dance with disaster, the full sixty minute press of Nolan's Latvian squad should gain nothing but respect for a coach who clearly had the attention of his team and was able to get his lessons and messages across.

The Latvian quest for a medal at Sochi, perhaps was a quixotic ambition at best. A remarkable run that now is over. Nolan's imprint on the team however, is something that Latvian hockey can build on moving on into the future.

The coach will leave behind his adopted players, with a return to Buffalo and the rest of the NHL season on his itinerary.

A situation that will offer up a little less in the Great moments categories for 2014, but provide for much in the way of challenges, something that Nolan seems quite adept at working with.

Buffalo, has yet to take away that interim title from his head coaching position, which seems rather puzzling considering what it is that Ted Nolan seems to be able to achieve.

If the Sabres really want to put his knowledge and motivational skills to work, maybe they should start rebuilding the talent base that he has to work with and give him the time to do what needs to be done to turn around what once was a pretty impressive franchise.

We've seen what he was able to craft in a Latvian squad that was a curiosity going into Sochi and may very well have become one of the main story lines  of the Olympic Games.

Hopefully, Buffalo's management and ownership took notes and will address his tenure in Northern New York in a very short time frame.

If not, somewhere in a 30 team NHL we imagine there are more than a few owners that suddenly realize, that leaving Ted Nolan on the NHL sidelines for as long as  he was, in the end was a very foolish move.

Globe and Mail-- Ted Nolan has Latvian players believing in themselves
Toronto Star-- Coach Ted Nolan has Latvia's hockey team dreaming big How Ted Nolan's Latvians took Canada to the brink Nolan regains love for coaching with Latvia Ted Nolan, Latvia shock the world at Sochi Olympics
ESPN-- Ted Nolan Made Latvia believe in Upset

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