St. Patty’s Day Tribute to Owen Nolan
Yes, it is the famous (or infamous) March 17th. The day where public intoxication becomes not just acceptable, but expected. So, we here at Wild Nation have decided to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by putting together a small tribute to our favorite Wild player and resident Irishman, Owen Nolan.
Nolan was born in Belfast, Ireland on February 12, 1972. His family soon moved to Canada, where Nolan began playing hockey at the age of nine. At the age of 15, Nolan began playing for the Thorold Bantam Hawks, putting up 53 goals and 85 points in just 28 games. At 16, he made the jump to the OHL, playing for the Cornwall Royals. He totalled 59 points in 62 games his first season, all while racking up an impressive 213 penalty minutes. The following season, he took off, notching 110 points in 58 games as well as 240 penalty minutes.
His two seasons in the OHL were good enough to get him drafted by the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) and Nolan stepped into their line up and was making an impact by the age of 19. After two solid seasons of 70+ points and 180+ penalty minutes, Nolan was sidelined for the majority of the 1993-94 season with a shoulder injury suffered in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He came back strong in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, with 49 points in 46 games and was traded to San Jose in the following season for Sandis Ozolinsh. It is in San Jose where Nolan would step into his own on the ice, becoming a team leader both on and off the ice for much of his time with the organization. This was capped by the 1999-00 season where Nolan was 2nd in the league in goals with 44 and carved his niche with 18 powerplay goals as well. By the time he hit his 30s, his body began to give out and a serious knee injury sidelined him for the lockout, as well as all of the following season.
Not one to be kept out of the game, however, the firey Irishman made a comeback with the Phoenix Coyotes; finishing third on the team in points with 40 and in goals scored with 16. Nolan then signed with the Flames the following year, putting up similar numbers and providing veteran leadership for the team before finally settling in with the Wild this season.
Nolan’s career accomplishments include 9 straight 15+ goal seasons (which include 5 20+ goal seasons within the streak) as well as being the Sharks captain for much of his stay in San Jose. What most remember about Nolan, however, are his exploits that have little-to-nothing to do with goal scoring. First was his “run in” with Ed Belfour in the 1997-98 playoffs and second was his called shot goal against Dominic Hasek in the 1999-00 All Star game. Nolan’s 148 career powerplay goals rank him 8th amongst active skaters and 44th all time, his 1744 penalty minutes ranks him 10th amongst active skaters and 79th all time and his 401 goals rank him 81st all time. Also, his shooting percentage this season (17.7%) is good for 9th in the NHL. His 20 goals this season leads the Wild and marks the 10th time in his career that he has broken the 20+ goal mark.
This season, however, Nolan has given the Wild leadership both on and off the ice, as well as showing the team’s youngsters just how the game is supposed to be played. He’s played through an ankle sprain, he’s played through a pulled groin, he’s currently playing through a broken toe. This is a man who flew out to Vancouver of his own volition, after being told that he wasn’t going to play on the road trip due to a broken toe. He boarded the plane in a walking boot, didn’t skate with the team because his skate was too painful, came out during the game and was one of the Wild’s top players.
If the Wild are to make the playoffs this season, you can easily point to “Cowboy” or “Grandpa” or “Grumpy” (all of which Nolan is called in the locker room) as the reason. The Wild’s core may consist of Brent Burns, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Niklas Backstrom, but Nolan is the heart and soul of this team. Koivu may very well be wearing the ‘C’ on his chest, but Nolan is the true captain of this team. His passion for the game has been infectious and his tenacity is starting to rub off on other players in the locker room.
All in all, our favorite Irishman is providing both grit and scoring for the Wild this season, of which we are ever appreciative. So join me in toasting Owen Nolan at tonight’s game. Erin Go Bragh Owen, Erin Go Bragh!