Former NHL player/coach Ted Nolan opens up about dealing with racism

After never saying a word, former NHL player and coach Ted Nolan has decided to speak up about his ugly experiences with racism.

While most people know Nolan for his success behind the bench, this Sault St. Marie product was also a 1978 NHL fifth round draft choice by the Detroit Red Wings. However, this six -foot 185- pound left winger didn’t break into the NHL until the 1981-82 campaign when in 41 games, he produced 4 goals along with 17 points and 45 penalty minutes for the Wings.

During his career Nolan found himself bouncing from the NHL to the American Hockey League as he spent the entire 1882-83 campaign with the Wings farm team, the Adirondack Red Wings. It wouldn’t be until the following season when Nolan dressed for 19 games where he chipped in with three points (1 goal, 2 assists) while racking up 26 penalty minutes.

Once again Nolan found himself back in the American Hockey League and it wasn’t until a few years later in 1985-86 when this time with the Pittsburgh Penguins he finished up his NHL career with a goal and two points while tallying 34 penalty minutes in 18 games played.

Nolan followed up his playing days by getting into coaching with his finest moment coming in 1997 when he led the Buffalo Sabres to the Northeast Division title with a 40-30-12 record which earned him the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.

Prior to becoming an NHL coach, Nolan made his mark in the Ontario Hockey League beginning in 1988 when mid-season he took over behind the bench for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Without question the biggest thrill for Nolan came on May 23, 1993 when he led the Greyhounds to a Memorial Cup clinching 4-2 win against the Peterborough Petes.

Making that jump to the NHL, Nolan went from the Greyhounds to the Hartford Whalers where he spent the 1994-95 season as an assistant coach. A year later, he took on the challenge of becoming the head coach with the Sabres which ended in 1997 ironically after winning the Jack Adams Trophy.

Following a long absence, Nolan found himself back behind an NHL bench when on June 8, 2006 he was hired as the New York Islanders coach where in that first year, he could do no wrong in guiding them to the postseason for the first time since 2003-04.

He would remain the head coach until being let go on July 14, 2008. Other stops on Nolan’s coaching resume included the Latvia men’s national team, Sabres interim head coach from 2013 until 2015 and starting in 2017 until 2018 with Poland men’s National team. This past summer, Nolan became the latest former player/coach to talk about racism in the game. Last November, former Calgary Flames player Akim Aliu sent shockwaves across the league when he made public racial allegations involving then Flames coach Bill Peters.

Aliu claimed that when he was playing from 2008- 2010 for the Rockford IceHogs that Peters, who was coaching there at the time, never hesitated in using the ‘N’ word towards him around other players in the dressing room. When Aliu went public in 2019, the result was Peters stepping down as the Flames coach.

Afterwards, other unfortunate past incidents were brought up involving such names as former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock and current assistant Chicago Blackhawks coach Marc Crawford to name just a couple.

Back in mid-June, Nolan opened up about racism in the game.

“For every player like myself who managed to play through it, there’s thousands and thousands of kids that don’t because of racism. I heard stinking Indian and ‘prairie n-‘ so much of my life in hockey. Did I cry about it? I never told anybody. I’m telling you now. I’ve never told anybody about this before. But with what’s going on… I think we’re losing so many kids (from the game).”

Looking back, Nolan didn’t pull any punches as he stated that coaches pressured him into fighting a lot, which was not what he wanted to do.

“I went to Kenora and I thought I was going to be the next Bobby Orr,” Nolan said. “All of the sudden reality smashes you in the head. I was just crying and I was miserable. I went from loving the game at the point to just trying to survive in the game. I just tried to survive.”

While the majority of racism Nolan endured didn’t occur in the NHL, he did feel slighted when in 1997, after winning the Jack Adams Trophy, he was let go by the Sabres. “I won coach of the year in the National Hockey League and then I’m out for 10 years,” Nolan said. “I got sour at the game for a bit.”

Showing a strong passion for up and coming aboriginal youth players, Nolan in 1989, began the Anishnawbe Hockey School. Nolan along with his two sons Brandon Nolan and Jordan Nolan, who are both former NHL players, have for years worked with passing on that passion and perfecting the skills of young up and coming aboriginal players.

According to hockey data base, Nolan played 78 total NHL games where he totaled six goals along with 22 total points and 105 penalty minutes. Prior to cracking the NHL, Nolan played two years with the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds where in 126 total games, he scored 22 goals, 68 points while racking up 215 penalty minutes.

In the American Hockey League, Nolan competed in 374 games where he tallied an impressive 116 goals and 280 points along with 626 penalty minutes.

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