Nolan not a quitter

JOE WARMINGTON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Some people don't know when they are supposed to quit.

Those who expected that from Ted Nolan don't understand the man.

There's nothing better than a good old fashioned comeback story and it happened at the Air Canada Centre last night.

For the press you couldn't get a question in at Nolan if you tried. There were so many cameras you'd swear Tom Cruise was talking about adopting one of Madonna's kids.

It was one of those special moments a reporter never forgets because when it comes to Ted, I am not objective.

I met the guy in 1987 when he and his wife Sandra stood up for an aboriginal woman with three children who had been wrongly evicted from her home. "I just can't understand how in this country a woman with three kids could be evicted in the middle of winter," Ted told me at that time when I was a cub reporter with my beloved Sault Star.

With his support and from others, soon after the woman was given another house. He has been my hero ever since and it has never had anything to do with hockey.

BIG-NAME SCRUM

But still yesterday there was the New York Islanders coach surrounded by the biggest media scrum at The Hangar this year. Big names too. Pierre LeBrun, Jody Vance, Kathryn Humphreys, Cory Woron, Jim Lang, Lance Hornby, Damien Cox and Steve Paikin, who asked one of the more interesting questions.

"What do you want first, to be Grand Chief or win a Stanley Cup?"

Nolan, who is very proud of his Ojibwa First Nations heritage, smiled. "Both," he said.

Don't rule out either and if he achieves either one, the question might be "who is going to play you in the movie?"

For now there is this giant scrum. "It's 35 times more press than we'd see on the island," laughed a scribe with a vintage New York accent.

Question after question was coming at Nolan:

"Are you glad to be back?"

"How did you get Yashin to play so well?"

"Do you hold any grudges?"

"Do you really want to show them?"

Nolan answered each one so professionally.

"We are just trying to win a hockey game."

He's smooth and you just know he's loving every minute of this. Well earned. It couldn't have happened to a better man.

I could see the gleam in his eye. He'd never admit it but he was savouring every second. Why wouldn't he? Nine years is a long time in between big league media scrums. I know people who have had three new cars since he won the Jack Adams Trophy for Coach of the Year in 1998.

The thing is Ted Nolan coaching at ACC last night was something I wasn't sure I would ever see again. I should have known better.

But it had been a long time since he left the Buffalo Sabres and it didn't seem he was going to be let back into the league. But this is Nolan we are talking about. He's defied the odds before. Another lesson taught and another lesson learned. You can't write off winners -- no matter the odds.

The moral of the story? Never quit. Never stop believing. Never stop working and don't let your detractors keep you down. Stick to your convictions. Stay positive. That stuff rubs off and good things happen.

'IT'S A MYSTERY'

It doesn't matter where you come from either. True Garden River First Nation is as far away from the NHL as you can possibly get but not for a kid who had a dream.

From those outdoor rinks on an Indian reserve he would find himself in 1977 on the Soo Greyhounds with a skinny kid named Wayne Gretzky and later playing alongside Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh and Steve Yzerman in Detroit.

Another member of that famous Greyhound team was also at the back of this same scrum -- also enjoying the moment. "It's a mystery why it took him so long to get back in the league," said Greg Millen, the great NHL goalie and Hockey Night In Canada analyst.

When you think of that team, you definitely think of Gretzky. But Millen says Nolan showed his leadership which is why he hustled his way to play 78 games in the NHL and won a Memorial Cup as a coach of the Greyhounds in 1993.

"He's a great coach," he said. "He's also a great person."

Millen is not surprised he's back. "He was such a competitor," he said. "He never took a shift off and never did know the word 'quit.' "

Some people don't know when to.


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