Nolan Ready for New Challenge in Poland

Coaching is what Ted Nolan loves to do. He has found a way to be around hockey all of his life and he has recently taken that next step by accepting the position of head coach with the Poland men’s national team.

Earlier this year, in an interview about what might be the next step in his career, Nolan told the National Post, “I love to coach and I love to make differences in people’s lives.”

The article also touched on his last foray into European hockey. Nolan served as the head man for another eastern European nation, Latvia, for three seasons from 2011 to 2014. During that time, he coached the men’s team in three World Championships, Olympic Qualifiers, and the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi Russia. He also served as a consultant for the Latvian U20 team.

During the 2013-14 season, the Buffalo Sabres hired Nolan to replace Ron Rolston on Nov. 13, 2013.  This gave Nolan the opportunity to coach a member of the Latvian national team, Zemgus Girgensons, full-time. It seemed to work out as, during a quarterfinal game of the Olympics, Latvia played Canada in a tight 2-1 battle that saw the Latvians threatening to tie the game late while goalie Kristers Gudlevskis stopped 55 of 57 Canadian shots.

Nolan Has Work Cut out for Him

Unlike his time with Latvia, Nolan will take over a program that won’t have an NHL player on the roster and won’t be playing in the Olympics. At least not yet.

Nolan has a long row to hoe. Poland hasn’t appeared in the Olympic hockey tournament since 1992 when the Polish team finished 11th of 12 and scored only 10 goals in seven games, with their only win coming in the 11thP-Place Game. There hasn’t been a Polish player in the NHL since Polish/Canadian dual citizen Wojtek Wolski left the league for the KHL in 2013-14. The Poles currently sit 20th in the IIHF World Ranking, steady from their ranking in 2016.

When Nolan took over the Latvian men’s national team in 2011, Latvia was ranked 12th and, by the time Nolan’s tenure with the program ended in 2014, that rank had risen to ninth. It is certain that the Polish Ice Hockey Federation is well aware of Nolan’s success both with Latvia and also as a winner of the Jack Adams Award in the NHL, as well as years of coaching in the Canadian Hockey League, including a Memorial Cup in 1993 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Ted Nolan’s second sting as the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach ended as poorly as it began. © Dan Hickling

Nolan also brings with him experience from non-coaching player personnel roles. The Polish Federation will certainly look to utilize all of Nolan’s talents as they look to improve their program overall as well as their standing in the IIHF World Ranking.

The expectations for Nolan, while realistic, are challenging. Previous national team head coach Jacek Plachta took over the head coaching role in 2014-15 after two years as an assistant and raised the Polish ranking from 25th to 20th in his three years.

Despite the improved ranking, the stagnation in the last two years coupled with the team’s showing at the 2017 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A, as well as the conclusion of Plachta’s contract, meant he was out. The team entered the final day of the tournament with an even goal differential and looking at a potential opportunity to medal, but an 11-0 loss to group champion Austria meant that the team’s solid performance up until the game was all for naught.

Nolan, Coolen Hope Familiarity Breeds Success

Joining Nolan behind the bench will be Tom Coolen. Coolen served as Nolan’s assistant with Latvia (2012-13 and 2013-14) as well as with the Sabres (2014-15). Coolen was named the head coach of the GKS Katowice on June 28, a role in which he replaced Plachta.

The duo of Nolan and Coolen hope their familiarity with each other will breed success, but they’ll also rely on Coolen’s newly-found familiarity of the Polish league to pick the best league members to pair with the key players playing abroad. The 24-man Polish roster for that 2017 Division I Group A tournament featured 16 players from the Polish league and, so far, one of thosedefenseman Jakub Wanackihas signed to play for GKS Katowice and Coolen this season.