Sweeping under the rug

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

BUFFALO -- All Teddy Nolan wanted was the opportunity to thank the Buffalo fans en masse.

A salute. A quick wave. Anything that could have been collectively seen and appreciated by the capacity crowd stuffed into the HSBC Arena yesterday for Nolan's return to Buffalo as coach of the New York Islanders.

One brief flash of his mug on the giant centre ice video screen would have ignited the 18,690 patrons in attendance to erupt into cheers.

It was a chance that would never come.

Not once throughout the game was Nolan shown on the large SONY scoreboard that dangles from the rafters.

On this night, the Jumbotron was a "No Teddy Zone."

There was, he admitted, no contact with anyone from the Buffalo Sabres organization either. It was as if the hosts just wanted to sweep the entire Nolan affair under the rug and move on.

"It's sad," Nolan said after his Islanders lost 3-1 to the Sabres. "It would have been nice if someone who had accomplished something here in the past would have been acknowledged."

Nolan claims he is not bitter, having achieved "closure" with the Sabres a long time ago.

But it was obvious he was a bit hurt yesterday.

We're not suggesting the Sabres should have rolled out the red carpet and presented the Islanders coach with a dozen roses. That's being unrealistic, to be sure.

But simply recognizing the return of a figure like Nolan, the only coach to lead the Sabres to a division title in the past 26 years, would not have been a unique gesture either.

Back in 2003-04, former Islanders coach Peter Laviolette made his first appearance back at the Nassau County Coliseum as the bench boss of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Islanders organization responded with a short video tribute to him.

Of course, Laviolette's parting with the Islanders was far more amicable than the turbulent divorce between Nolan and the Sabres of almost a decade ago.

Despite winning the NHL coach-of-the-year honours for leading the Sabres to a Northeast Division crown in 1996-97, Nolan's brief two-season tenure in Buffalo came to an end when he was offered just a one-year contract extension by the team, far below his expectations.

Rumblings of a rift between Nolan and former general manager John Muckler landed the coach with the reputation of a guy who clashed with management. Many believe that is the reason why Nolan didn't land another NHL head coaching job until the Islanders came calling this past off-season.

Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn did extend an olive branch to Nolan a year ago by inviting him to the ceremony retiring Pat Lafontaine's No. 16 at the HSBC Arena. Nolan could not attend, but did piece together a video clip that was shown on the scoreboard, a heart-felt message that left Lafontaine a teary-eyed mess.

At least Nolan realizes he remains in the hearts of the local citizens here, if not the Sabres organization.

During the loss yesterday, spectators behind the visitors bench wished him the best. Just above them was a large banner that blared: "Welcome Back Ted Nolan."

"One thing that was amazing was all the six- and eight-year-old kids yelling their support," Nolan said." These people always have been great to me."

Nolan's Islander players learned firsthand just how loved their coach really is in these parts during the wee hours yesterday morning. At about 4:30 a.m., many at the team hotel were snapped out of their blissful slumbers by boozy chants of "Let's Go Teddy!" coming from out in the hallway.

"It was crazy," goalie Rick DiPietro said. "I knew he was popular here, but I didn't know the extent of it."

Given all that, would a brief eight-second segment on the video screen have been too much to ask?


Photos