Ted Nolan was coaching the Latvian men’s national hockey team in Europe when he heard that his son Jordan got called up to join the Los Angeles Kings last winter. Four months later, Ted watched him raise the Stanley Cup. A former NHL player and coach of the year, Ted’s professional background took a backseat to being a father during Jordan’s playoff run.
“We’re just proud normal parents watching their kid win what very few athletes get a chance to win,” Ted said of he and his wife, Sandra.
From his home in Garden River, Ted talked with Wawatay News on the emotions during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Jordan’s commitment to improving after not being offered a contract by Los Angeles and the pride of having a First Nations athlete win hockey’s ultimate prize.
Wawatay: How did you feel when you heard Jordan got called up to join the team in Feb?
Ted Nolan: I was walking the streets of Norway at the time and I looked at my phone. There were six phone calls from Jordan and I missed them all and I was wondering what was going on. As soon as he told me, I had tears in my eyes. That’s how excited I was for him. Doing as much work as he had and all of a sudden he had a chance to play in the National Hockey League, I was an extremely proud father in that moment for sure.
WWT: With you being in Europe at the time, how were you able to keep track of his progress?
TN: There were many long nights. I was over there until the second round of the playoffs. There were a lot of three in the morning games and five in the morning games because there’s a seven-hour time change. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was a lot of fun to watch his progress and the first game against the New York Islanders. My wife Sandra and all of Jordan’s aunts got to Long Island to watch that first game. I missed the first game, but I didn’t miss the last one when they won the Cup.
WWT: Prior to him being called up, did you ever see him as joining the team and playing a regular shift on an NHL team?
TN: I was a typical father. We all think our kids are good players but I think having a professional background in coaching and watching what it takes to get to that level, I certainly saw that in Jordan at a relatively young age. The one thing I always questioned him on was whether he wanted to work on his skill and put the time and effort into achieving his potential. And I have to give him full marks. He really made some life-altering decisions when he was 18-19 years old. He hired himself a personal trainer in the Soo. He got up at six in the morning and stopped going out Friday and Saturday nights and dedicated himself to his trade. When he got drafted by LA, they didn’t give him a contract because one of the knocks about Jordan was whether he wanted to play or not. And I think he really made the decision that he wanted to. He wanted to play pro and he worked and his whole body changed, his eating habits changed, everything changed. And from the boy who they drafted as a 19-year-old to the guy they have now, he made a 180-degree turn.
WWT: When he first got called up were there any words of wisdom you imparted on to him?
TN: The biggest thing is that everybody has nerves. It’s human nature to be nervous and get excited and sometimes you forget about what got you there. So I basically told him to remember what got him there: his work, his drive and his competitiveness and his hitting and doing the simple things. And I watched that first game and it looked like he did all the right things, which kept him there for the remainder of the year.
WWT: Jordan played on the fourth line on the team, and he played generally less than 10 minutes a game. Did he ever express any worry to you about his ice time and whether he would remain with the team for the remainder of the season?
TN: No, the one thing I’ve known throughout my whole career, and I was a fourth liner when I played at the beginning, and I’ve coached teams that had four lines, that everybody is important, whether you have two minutes of ice time or whether you have 20 minutes of ice time.
You worry about your job and his job was to be a fourth line energy guy, and no, there was never any concern. I know how important the job is and I think their line contributed, as all the other lines did, in the success of their team.
WWT: With your coaching experience and you knowing Jordan’s playing style, is that a role you would have put him in if you were coach of the team?
TN: (laughs) He’s a good player and I think in time, he’ll get better. But right now, he’s extremely happy with where he is with his career and we couldn’t be prouder. We just worried about what’s going on and right now, it’s the end of the season and he has a couple weeks of break and then he’s going to start to prepare for next year and it starts all over again.
WWT: Are there any particular highlights of Jordan’s play throughout the playoffs, other than winning the Stanley Cup?
TN: Just the way he brought his level almost every game. He brought his energy every game and that’s all you can ask of anybody, is just play the best they can. And I was extremely proud of him, the way he performed on a daily basis, game in, game out, throughout the whole run. It’s your consistency that separates guys that maybe can make it and those who do make it. His consistency throughout the whole playoffs was something to watch and I was really proud of that.
WWT: Can you describe the feeling going into Game 6? How were you feeling that night?
TN: I told this to a number of people: in junior hockey, I remember way back, I was never nervous, as a player, as a coach, going into any game. I was excited about certain games but I was never really nervous. But this one here, I was a ball of nerves. I totally immersed myself into being a proud daddy watching his son and hoping things work out for him as any father wishes for their son. And my wife, Jordan’s mom, was a rock throughout the thing. She just maintained her composure. I was nervous, but that last game, the nerves kind of disappeared and it was kind of a, ‘we’re gonna do this thing here tonight.’ It was a great thing to go through and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
WWT: Can you describe how you were feeling during that last minute countdown and when Jordan raised the Cup?
TN: You know, it’s one of those things. Jordan’s mom and myself were sitting there by ourselves and during the countdown, we just looked at each other and hugged each other, and there were definitely some tears flowing. And even today, if we stop to think about it for more than a minute, the tears will start coming again, because of how excited we are and how proud we are of Jordan. And it’s special feeling too coming from a First Nations community, Garden River. Some of the things that our people went through and what have you, and all of sudden, you see one of our own win the Stanley Cup and bring it to a First Nations community. It’s something that still sends chills down your back.
WWT: So Jordan is going to be one of the few First Nations people to have their names inscribed on the Cup [George Armstrong (Ojibwe), Reggie Leach (Cree), Chris Simon (Ojibwe), plus Metis: Bryan Trottier, Theo Fleury, and now Jordan’s teammate, Dwight King]. What do you think this says about First Nations athletes?
TN: I think it’s a great thing. All of a sudden, Jordan being as young as he is – he’s only 22 and he’ll be 23 this summer – and even all the kids here in Garden River who are three years old, they’re all yelling Jordan’s name. You know, we all need role models. And hopefully he’ll be a good example of what work and determination and believing in yourself can accomplish. He was raised here in Garden River, I’m from Garden River and my parents are from Garden River, so to see him do it, it could make a difference in someone’s life down the road.
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