Nolan taking control in Rochester

by Lindsay Kramer ||

nolan09aTed Nolan got a chance to watch his son, Brandon, skate for Manitoba in Rochester a few seasons ago. The setting gave Ted a chance to revisit the city in which he once played, with the Amerks in 1984-85.

Like most seasons in the long, storied history of the Rochester Americans, those were rocking, raucous times. But when Ted Nolan came back as a proud parent, he noticed something a lot different about the atmosphere.

”It certainly didn’t have the feel it once did,” Ted Nolan said. ”I was intimidated a couple of times coming in here (as a visitor). It kind of looked comfortable (now), like a nice place to play.”

Last week, the Amerks landed Nolan as a high-profile free agent to turn back the clock.

Nolan, a former NHL coach of the Sabres and Islanders, has been brought in as the club’s vice president of hockey operations.

Nolan will oversee all hockey- and business-related issues, and will work closely with parent-club Florida to bring players to Rochester. He’ll also pitch Amerks hockey to potential corporate sponsors and build the image of the team in the community.

In short, Nolan is a shot of credibility for a franchise in need of re-energizing after two straight last-place finishes in front of tons of empty seats.

”What we’re going to try to do is rekindle that (fan enthusiasm)," said Nolan. "Sometimes all you need is a little spark. It’s all about recruiting. It’s all about the environment. We have to win.”

For all of his hockey success the past two decades, Nolan still feels a small debt to Rochester because of his one season there. At the time, there was no interest in his game and he was ready to hang up the skates until the Amerks gave him a tryout before the 1984-85 season.

He said he showed up out of shape and his early strategy was to stir things up and get kicked out of games before his fatigue became obvious. But he came around to contribute 28 goals and 34 assists for Rochester, an effort that helped him get an 18-game look with the Penguins in 1985-86, his last season as a player.

”It led on to further my playing career and to further my coaching career,” Nolan said of his time in Rochester.

After getting let go as coach by the Islanders after the 2007-08 season, Nolan spent much of the past year working on his longstanding charitable foundation, which is dedicated to helping teach and guide Aboriginal youth. Nolan said that effort has prepared him well for the financial challenges of helping to run a team. Stepping down a level of hockey to apply his experience and name recognition doesn’t faze him a bit.

”I told this to a number of people — it’s an honor to be part of elite leagues,” Nolan said. ”The principles are all the same, and how you approach it. I look at (Rochester) as a minor-league team playing in a major-league market.”

Brodeur back with Wilson

Goalie Mike Brodeur credits Eli Wilson as one of the people who helped turn his career in the right direction several years ago.

Brodeur took it from there, becoming a good minor-league goalie. Now, Brodeur hopes a reunion with his former mentor produces the type of fine-tuning that places him in the NHL.
Brodeur, 26, signed a free-agent deal with the Ottawa organization last week in large part because Wilson is the Senators’ goalie coach.

Wilson was also Brodeur’s instructor for seven or eight years growing up in Calgary, starting when Brodeur was about 16.

”It was a huge factor to have him as a friend and a business partner at the same time,” Brodeur said. ”He pretty much knows me inside and out, mentally and physically. Everything is lining up.”

Brodeur needs just that sort of familiar touch to help turn the huge spike in his career that he experienced for Rochester last season into the norm instead of a surprise.

Brodeur was a hit for the Amerks after a recall from Augusta of the ECHL, going 18-13-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. It was by far the most AHL time of his career, after kicking around with Greenville, Toledo, Pensacola and Augusta of the ECHL. The early plan going into 2009-10 is to slot Brodeur as one of the anchors in Binghamton’s net.

”That’s what I hope to do — keep developing, get better. One year doesn’t make your career,” Brodeur said. ”It’s like climbing a mountain. It just keeps getting tougher. You can never be satisfied. Mentally, you can’t quit on yourself. I’ve had a lot of things in my way. You can’t give up.”

Darche’s dream coming true

As a native of the Montreal area, forward Mathieu Darche always wanted to play for the Canadiens.

The organization returned that affection in a small, but telling, way July 1.

Merely a minute or two into the free-agent season, Montreal called to pitch a one-year, two-way deal to Darche’s agent. An hour later, the two sides agreed to a deal.

”They showed right away they want me to be in the organization,” said Darche, 32. ”It (being a Montreal fan) is not what made the decision, but once I signed I kind of felt different than any other year, because it’s Montreal. If I had a chance to play some games (there), I’d be pretty excited.”

Darche figures to be a more crucial cog with Hamilton, Montreal’s AHL team. In 2008-09 he had 31 goals and 35 assists for Portland, but didn’t get any games with parent-club Buffalo.

After spending almost all of 2007-08 with Tampa Bay, he held out for much of July with the unsuccessful hope that some organization would give him a one-way deal. This off-season, he was prepared to settle the issue quickly because he figured only two-way offers would roll his way.

”I wasn’t going to take a chance on losing (Montreal’s offer) just to see what was out there,” Darche said. ”I understand my role will be to help the young guys, but I want to win.”

A Monster challenge facing Haydar

The greatest clutch player in AHL history is looking at a whole different kind of pressure this season.

Forward Darren Haydar already has proven he can take good teams to a title. But can he nudge a fledgling franchise to the playoffs? We might soon find out.

Haydar, 29, has inked a one-year, two-way contract with Colorado. He already has starred for Calder Cup champions in Milwaukee and Chicago and he also is the league’s all-time playoff leader in goals (59), assists (76) and points (135).
But if he sees time with Colorado affiliate Lake Erie, Haydar will have the much different challenge of pushing the Monsters into the playoffs for the first time in their three-year history.

”I don’t think any player can do that to a team (by himself), but I will definitely try,” he said. ”This is something different in my career that I’m willing to take on. It is a different step than what I’m used to.”

Haydar admits that a few weeks ago he was expecting a far more extreme turn in his career. He finished sixth in the AHL in scoring last season for Grand Rapids, turning out 31 goals and 49 assists. He’s a former league MVP who in 496 career games has 201 goals and 335 assists. But during that span he’s seen action in just 22 NHL contests.

Haydar said he thought he’d be taking his talents overseas in 2009-10, but nothing suitable materialized there. So he decided to knock on the Avalanche’s door as a possible portal to the NHL.

”I’m having a hard time giving up on the dream, just like a lot of young kids,” he said. ”There’s a lot of spots open on their team, a lot of chances to show what I can do. I felt like this could be my last chance. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated. As soon as they (frustrating thoughts) come into my head, I push them out. I just try to do what I can do, and hopefully someone likes me along the way.”

Chops suspended

The Iowa Chops, farm team of the Anaheim Ducks, have been involuntarily suspended for the 2009-10 season by the league’s Board of Governors.

"The Iowa franchise has unfortunately been unable to remedy certain violations of the provisions of the league’s Constitution and By-Laws," AHL President David Andrews said in a statement.