UNIONDALE — Long Island will always be a special place for Ted Nolan. It’s where he returned to the NHL after nearly a decade in exile, where he once again led an upstart team to the playoffs.
But of the 169 games he spent on the New York bench, the one in which he wasn’t the coach sticks out.
Nolan always noticed the signage that honored Al Arbour’s 1,499 games as Islanders coach. During a meeting with owner Charles Wang, Nolan suggested they improve that number by one.
So on Nov. 3, 2007, Arbour accepted an invitation from Nolan and coached on a one-day contract. He led New York to a 3-2 comeback victory over Pittsburgh.
“Charles had little meetings once in a while on how to get more people in the building, maybe some celebrities coming to town,” Nolan said Saturday before the Sabres’ game with New York. “I walk by this locker room every day, and I saw 1,499 games coached.
“I just brought it up one meeting, ‘I know how to sell out a building. We could sell it out mid-July, Sunday morning, it doesn’t matter. People will come, especially for a legend like Al Arbour.’
“That whole night, it was kind of like standing behind the bench with Toe Blake, Vince Lombardi. Al’s a legend. To see the way the people reacted and see the game the way it went, to come back and tie up Pittsburgh, 2-2, and all of a sudden beat them, 3-2, it was one of those magical nights I’ll always remember.”
Nolan also looks back fondly on the final week of the 2006-07 season, when the Islanders used their own victories and losses by other playoff hopefuls to sneak into the postseason. They lost to the Sabres in the first round.
Most of all, Nolan remembers his two-year stint with the Islanders as a second chance to prove he could coach. He and the Sabres bitterly parted ways after he was named Coach of the Year in 1997, and he didn’t get another look until Wang hired him in 2006.
Saturday’s game was Nolan’s first in Nassau Coliseum since 2008.
“I was very thankful for the opportunity with the Islanders, especially at the time,” Nolan said. “I was out of the league about 10 years. I get a call from Charles to come here to coach. It was certainly an honor. I’m always grateful.”
The Sabres played without defenseman Tyler Myers, and they may do so again tonight when Montreal visits First Niagara Center. Myers banged his arm hard on the glass Thursday in Carolina, and he stayed off the ice Saturday.
“He went to finish his hit and kind of missed the guy a little bit,” Nolan said. “Hopefully, we’ll get him back by the long trip.”
The Sabres head to western Canada this week, starting with a game Tuesday in Calgary.
Buffalo recalled Rasmus Ristolainen, its top pick in last year’s draft, on an emergency basis to take Myers’ spot.
Alexander Sulzer, who likely suffered a concussion against the Hurricanes, is out for at least a week. Chad Ruhwedel took his place on the blue line.
Thomas Vanek will play his first game against the Sabres tonight after spending 598 in a Buffalo uniform. The Sabres dealt their perennial scoring leader to the Islanders in October. New York sent him to Montreal at the trade deadline.
“He was one of the best players to roll through in a while,” Sabres center Tyler Ennis said. “He got traded and we didn’t even get to see him in Long Island. It’ll be good to see him in a Canadiens jersey. We haven’t seen him for a while, and he was a great teammate for a lot of years.”