SAUGEEN – Ted, Jordan, and Brandon Nolan, Indigenous hockey royalty, visited the community in Saugeen First Nations at the James Mason Community Centre on July 21, bringing their message of inspiration to the youth of the Indigenous territory.
The father and sons co-founded the 3Nolans First Nation Hockey School in 2013 as a way to offer a hockey skills development camp for First Nation youth in First Nation communities across Canada.
“The program was developed to specifically work with First Nation youth to further develop their hockey skills and knowledge,” their website states, “but more importantly, teach them the importance of living healthy active lifestyles, how to be positive role models, and how to become future leaders in their communities.”
The 3Nolans also spend time spreading their message through speaking engagements like this one because it is essential for them to reach all Indigenous youth, so they are aware that dreams can come true with hard work and dedication.
The Nolan brothers both dreamed of making the NHL as young lads and eventually fulfilled those dreams. But not without huge transitions, lots of hard work, and never giving up on those dreams, no matter how hard things got.
The three shared their personal experiences with the audience of youth, elders, and fans, reiterating the importance of hard work, healthy lifestyles, and community spirit.
They also shared different coping mechanisms they used to deal with things like moving away from home at a young age, alcoholism and drug addiction, and racism.
The 3Nolans come from Garden River First Nations, located near Sault Ste. Marie.
Ted grew up in a large family on the reserve with no running water or electricity. He learned resilience from his parents and pride in his heritage from his mom. He says that pride, strength, and a willingness to dream are the cornerstones of success.
The elder Nolan grew up playing minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, and left home at 16 to play junior hockey in Kenora.
He remembers the emotional roller coaster he was on during that first trip away from home, saying he cried himself to sleep many nights; his homesickness was terrible.
After a year in Kenora, he was able to come back home and play for his hometown team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, from 1976 to 1978. His passion, skill, and grit helped him to get drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1978.
After a brief stint with the Red Wings organization, which saw him raise the Calder Cup Championship with their minor league affiliate, Ted was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins appearing in 78 NHL games before having his career cut short by a serious back injury at the age of 26.
He went on to coach the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and eventually led them to three Memorial Cup appearances and won the coveted prize in 1993.
A year after winning the Memorial Cup, he was hired as an assistant coach for the Hartford Whalers. After one season with the Whalers, Ted would then go on to coach the Buffalo Sabres (1995-1997 and 2013-2015) and the NY Islanders (2006-2008).
During the Buffalo Sabres season in 1996-97, which saw them capture first in the Northeast Division, Ted was awarded the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year.”
His career didn’t end there. In 2014, he coached the Latvian Men’s National Ice Hockey Team at the Sochi Olympics.
The Latvians almost shocked the hockey world that year, and nearly broke the hearts of every hockey fan in Canada when they took the Canadian team down to the final couple minutes of play in the quarterfinal game. The Latvians would finish eighth in the tournament.
Ted always says, “Hockey is what I do; it is not who I am.” He is so grateful for the opportunities hockey has created in his life and, most importantly, the opportunity it has created to become a positive role model for First Nations people across Canada.
The Nolan brothers also shared their knowledge with the audience, both experiencing similar, mind-jarring experiences with transitions, including the tears, they said.
Brandon achieved his dream of playing in the NHL when he was called up from the AHL’s Albany River Rats to the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 22, 2007.
“I remember sitting in my apartment in Albany and receiving a call from my coach telling me that I was being called up to play for the Carolina Hurricanes,” he said.
“Wanting to sound tough, confident, and ready to go while on the phone with my coach, all I wanted to do was get off the phone so I could cry. I broke down like a baby, shedding tears of joy because I knew what I had worked my entire life for and dreamed about as a boy was about to become a reality.”
Brandon would go on to play six games for the Carolina Hurricanes that season, but on Feb. 22, 2008, his life would change forever. Brandon suffered a serious concussion during a game in the AHL and was forced to retire from the game he loved.
Jordan is a three-time Stanley Cup champion winner with the LA Kings (2012 and 2014) and St. Louis Blues (2019).
“Committing myself fully on and off the ice was what changed my life. I knew in order to make, and eventually stick in the NHL full time, I needed to live a healthy, clean, active lifestyle, and that is what helped me get to where I am today,” said Jordan.
Both have finished their NHL hockey careers and returned to school to get an education, which is very important to them. Both are married, with their own children now.
Hockey is a great career, but not a life-long one, so making sure that part of their message to the youth out there is to make sure they get an education too, so when they become husbands and fathers or mothers and wives, they have the means to provide for themselves and become community leaders, leading by example.
The speaking engagement portion of the day ended with lots of questions, a barbecue, and a photo session before they went out to the parking lot and played a few games of road/ball hockey with the youth.
For more information, to donate, or to enroll your child in one of their many hockey camps, visit 3nolans.com.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times