Ted Nolan only took the job in Latvia a few years ago because, well, nobody else wanted him. He simply wanted to keep coaching after a stint in the Amerks front office, and this was one of the only opportunities that presented itself.
Two and a half years later, Nolan's Latvian team pulled a surprise upset over the Swiss to improbably advance to the quarterfinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
Granted, their run will likely come to a swift and brutal end tomorrow when they face the powerhouse Canadian team, but for one night, at least, Nolan and the Latvian team (as well as Latvian hockey fans around the world) can feel like they've achieved the unthinkable.
After coming in to the playoff round on the heels of an 0-3 round robin record where they were outscored 10-5, the Latvians capitalized on a few early opportunities and a whole lot of hard, gritty play to come away with the win. Sound familiar, Sabres fans?
Regardless of how you feel about his long-term prospects in Buffalo, Nolan has done a fine job in turning around a talent-less Sabres team, and has gotten them to buy in to his mantra of hard work, clean play, and defensive responsibility. It would appear that he's taken those tenants across the Atlantic, as these quotes from Latvian forward Kaspars Daugavins reveal:
We never had a coach that actually believes in the players. It’s always been, like, army style, where everybody just has to work hard and you never get a tap on your shoulders saying, ‘Good job, buddy.’ He brings a different spirit on the team. He actually makes us believe that we’re actually a good team. I’ve been to a lot of world championships and an Olympics before, and we never had a feeling that we can actually win something.
Hm, a coach able to motivate an undermanned underdog that nobody believes in to a surprising victory? Sounds like Nolan has found the two most perfect teams to lead into battle. It should also be mentioned that Nolan is putting a ton of responsibility on Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons in Sochi, something that will ultimately benefit Girgensons' growth into a future leader for the Sabres.
We've thoroughly enjoyed Latvia's run through the Olympics, if only for the fact that they've had the only two Sabres employees with starting jobs in the Olympics. Today marked their first victory in Olympic play since 2002, and a big win for undermanned countries across the European continent. As for tomorrow, and their plan for facing the Canadians?
"Cross your fingers and hope for the best and [shoot] the puck off the boards."
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