After spending two weeks celebrating his Stanley Cup victory with the Los Angeles Kings and making media appearances, Jordan Nolan returned to Garden River in late June to help prepare the community parade for when he brings the Cup on Aug. 20.
Jordan spoke with Wawatay News about his early hockey years, working hard to earn and then keep his spot in the Kings lineup and the feeling on the bench as the clock ticked down during the final minutes of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Wawatay: Who were your favourite NHL players growing up?
Jordan Nolan: I was a big Steve Yzerman fan. Detroit’s a pretty close NHL team (from St. Catharines) so I was definitely a big Yzerman fan. And then once I got a little bit older, I was a big fan of Todd Bertuzzi, because that’s the kind of role I was playing growing up, and I always thought he was a big power forward, and that’s what I wanted to be.
WWT: Can you tell me about your early hockey years?
JN: I just remember my dad always coaching and just me and my brother always hanging around the rink. And my dad took pride in building ice rinks for us in the winters. He made a pretty nice skating rink in the backyard and me and my brother would hang out there for hours. He put me in hockey at a young age. I was a young forward just excited to be out there on the ice and I think I always played two years up and I definitely always enjoyed playing at a young age.
WWT: Your father said you were not offered a contract by the Los Angeles Kings after being drafted in 2009 and you made a life-altering decision to work hard for a hockey career. What made you want to change?
JN: I think I had some maturing to do. I was 18 years old and was just enjoying life. I wasn’t taking hockey or working out too seriously. I wasn’t doing things I should’ve been doing. I realized I’m going to have to pick it up or I’d have to go to school or I’m going to have to do something else besides play hockey. But my main goal was to be in the NHL and I knew that. In order for that to happen, I’d have to make some changes in my life, and once I made those decisions, everything just started clicking so things worked out.
WWT: Your father is obviously a major influence to you and your hockey career. What was the best advice he gave to you?
JN: He was always pretty simple growing up. Whether I got five goals in one game or zero goals, it didn’t really matter unless I worked hard. Before I started my American Hockey League career, he said just dedicate five years of your life to hockey and do everything you can do to get to the NHL, and if things don’t work out, you can go do something else. But if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded and so I did that, and I was rewarded this year.
WWT: How did you feel when you first got called up to join the Kings?
JN: I was definitely excited. I went up there not knowing what to expect. I knew I was going there to play against the Islanders, and I was just taking it game by game. So my main goal was to work hard, and just try to stay in the lineup for the rest of the season.
WWT: What was your ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment? What made you go, ‘wow, I’m in the big time’?
JN: In my second game against Dallas, I was feeling pretty good out there and I remember I took a bit of a long shift. Once I got back to the bench, my coach Darryl Sutter gave me a look and said, “If you stay out there too long again, I’ll send you right back to the minors,” and that kind of shocked me. Because in the American League, I was taking long shifts and my coach had a lot of trust in me and so in the NHL, I had to build up that trust with him. So when he said that to me, it scared me a bit and I was on my toes the whole season.
WWT: You played on the fourth line on the Kings and played less than 10 minutes a game. Did you ever worry about your spot on the team and if you might get sent back down, even during the playoffs?
JN: I think it was always in the back of my mind that there were other guys waiting to get in the lineup who were there all season. Darryl having confidence in me in the lineup was a great thing, but I knew I needed to play my best, work hard in order to keep that spot. It was definitely in the back of my mind to play good or my spot would’ve been gone for sure.
WWT: In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the team had an early lead and went on to win 6-1. At what point did you realize, wow, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup and how did you feel as the clock ticked down?
JN: I think in the first period I had a good idea we weren’t losing this game. The guys were definitely focused. I had a feeling before the game that the guys were going to come out hot, and we did and we got those three goals in the first. And I think after that, we thought we can’t lose this game but we had to stay focused. You can’t assume things because things can turn around pretty quick in hockey. And once those last five minutes came in the third period, everyone was looking at the clock, looking at the fans and getting excited. And you just can’t wait for that buzzer to go off.
WWT: Since you’ve returned to Garden River, how have community members reacted?
JN: I’ve been pretty busy the past two days, just trying to get everything organized in our house. Just to set up for the parade that we’re gonna have here. Me and my dad went for a bike ride last night and we had a few cars drive by honking and saying congratulations. A few cousins and aunts came by the house saying congratulations and so it’s been nice. And I’m excited to bring the Cup back here and share it with everyone.
WWT: What advice would you give to young First Nations people who either want to play in the NHL or who have other big dreams?
JN: Just work your hardest and commit 100 per cent to it. If you’re not going to commit to it then chances are it’s not going to work out. I didn’t commit until I was about 19 years old and fortunately things worked out.
WWT: In February you got called up and four months later you won the Stanley Cup as a rookie. What is next for you?
JN: Just work hard this summer. Nothing’s guaranteed in hockey and so I gotta work hard all summer and make sure I get a roster spot first and then go from there. I just want to have a great season next year. It’s a contract year. But my main goal is to work hard this summer and earn that roster spot.
National Indigenous Peoples Day which takes place on June 21 and the wider National Indigenous History Month in June is a significant time for Indigenous...