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No Standing "O" for Ted

This past Monday Islanders coach Ted Nolan’s odyssey came full circle here in Buffalo, to the place where he experienced some of his greatest triumphs and his biggest heartache.

By now everyone knows the story. As Sabres head coach, Nolan led his “Hardest Working” Sabres to a division title in 1996-97, and in doing so captured the hearts of the entire community. All this happened despite plenty of skullduggery by his GM John Muckler, a simmering feud with his star goaltender Dominik Hasek and plenty of side drama with an ownership battle in full swing. When the dust settled, all the warring participants were gone, save for Hasek, and what lingered was a sour taste in everyone’s mouths.

Yet who could forget Derek Plante’s 1997 series-winning goal in overtime? Normally the coach’s role is to remain stoic and subdued, even in such a situation. But not Ted. Not on this day. Nolan jumped out onto the ice, waving a towel and whooping it up with his guys. It is a joyous image seared into the minds of Sabres fans.

Nolan returned to coaching last season with the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats, winning the league championship and then falling one game short of capturing the Memorial Cup. “Teddy came and then he left, but will always be remembered and beloved for what he accomplished here,” said Wildcats General Manager Bill Schurman in a telephone interview last week. “He has a way of getting the best out of his players.”

Success. Overachieving. Nolan’s hallmark in Buffalo, the OHL and the QMJHL. And don’t look now, but the longtime doormat New York Islanders are very much in the hunt for a playoff berth.

Both Nolan and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff are anxious to dispel any notion that there are hard feelings between the two, both of whom were thrust into an awkward situation at the time.

Said Ruff, “That is so far in the past. I think he’s doing a heck of a job coaching the Islanders. That team is playing real well. Obviously it will be a special time for him coming back here. He has a lot of great memories. From his standpoint I think it’s all great.”

Nolan admitted that having the opportunity to present the Jack Adams Trophy to Ruff at the NHL awards ceremony last June was a wonderful experience. “Lindy’s done a great job since he got here and continues to do so,” said Nolan. “To hand him a Coach of the Year Award where you had a chance to coach and be part of this organization, it was a special moment for me and hopefully a little bit more for him receiving the award.”

Nolan was unable to come to Buffalo last season to participate in the number retirement ceremony for Pat LaFontaine. Nonetheless his congratulatory video was played and it received a hearty ovation. Has the Sabres organization reached out to Nolan to formally bury the hatchet? “No, not so much on that aspect,” Nolan replied forlornly. “I think time is the best thing to forget about what happened and move on. Hopefully the fans will just remember the good times like I did.”

The evening before the game Nolan said he didn’t know what kind of reception to expect. “Hopefully the fans won’t boo,” Nolan quipped. “But if I weren’t a bit nervous then there would be something wrong with me.” Sabres broadcaster Jim Lorentz predicted a warm reception. “The fans certainly remember his time here,” Lorentz said. “I think he’ll have a very positive welcome here, without a doubt. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t.”

Unfortunately, the welcome never happened during the game. Perhaps the “Kiss Cam” or that ridiculous Rigas-era video showing cattle running down Main Street were just too compelling to pull for one night, but the Sabres never showed Nolan on the Jumbotron. Nor did they show that massive sign unfurled in section 122 which stated “Welcome back Coach of the Year.” Simply stopping the music during a TV timeout, putting Nolan and the signs up on the screen and letting the fans do the rest would have been a fitting gesture.

It was either a major gaffe by the game day crew or yet another snub by the front office who remain loath to acknowledge Anything Nolan. Either way, Sabres fans who circled this date to witness Nolan’s return were cheated from what should have been a moving moment.

As the final seconds ticked off in the Sabres 3-1 win over the Islanders, one could take satisfaction that the Hockey Gods made things right. Ted Nolan is back, coaching in the NHL.


Sign spotted at the Carolina game: “My favorite Briere at the local Drury is Miller.” Taro approves.

Teppo Numminen is at it again, with all of his points in the assist column. Teppo now has 15 points without a goal to his credit. Philly’s Joni Pitkanen leads the NHL with 19 points without finding the back of the net, in case anyone was wondering.

Makes no sense: While fans didn’t get the opportunity to give Nolan some love, they certainly had the chance to do likewise (more or less) with former Sabre Miroslav Satan. Safe to say he heard it from the fans.

Useless stat of the week: With the win over the Islanders, the Sabres run their record against Atlantic Division clubs to a perfect 10-0.