The objection count would have been zero had Ted Nolan elected to take Friday off. The Buffalo coach was two days removed from a remarkable Olympic game that zapped emotions. About 18 hours prior to the Sabres’ practice, he was still halfway around the world.
Surely, his absence would have been excused. That’s not the Nolan way, however.
“We’ll rest in the summertime,” Nolan said after the Sabres ended their Olympic break with a workout in First Niagara Center.
The Sabres and their coach returned to the ice for the first time since a Feb. 5 loss in Ottawa. The players were refreshed after trips to the Caribbean, Disney World or home. Nolan had energy despite coaching Latvia in the Sochi Games and arriving in Buffalo on Thursday night.
“It was one of those experiences you’ll never forget,” Nolan said. “Once we were done with hockey, we went to other events. We went to curling – I’m a big curling fan – went to speedskating, went to the downhill skiing.
“Probably the best thing about the whole event was sitting in the cafeteria where all the athletes eat. You sit down and try and guess what sport they’re from. It was kind of cool meeting guys from Togo. I didn’t know where Togo was. We met a prince. He was an alpine skier, I guess, representing Mexico.
“I’ve never been to one before, but if they’re any better than that, I’m not too sure.”
Nolan had a blast despite being apprehensive about the journey.
“That was probably one of the most disappointing parts about the whole aspect about Sochi,” Nolan said. “The media made it out like we were going to a war zone and it was going to be unsafe. I was scared going over, but seeing it, it’s a beautiful, beautiful city. The mountains, I don’t know if I was in Colorado in the Rockies or Miami at the same time or Russia or North America.
“All the volunteers were very friendly. I learned a couple Russian words. They look very stoic, but when you say ‘good morning’ in their language, they kind of smile and are very polite. Not only were the events great, but the people running it were, too.”
Latvia put on an inspiring performance, particularly during its 2-1 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals Wednesday. The game was tied with seven minutes left before the gold-medal finalists finally put Latvia away.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of the group, and that’s what I mentioned to the guys here,” Nolan said. “It doesn’t matter about your skill set. It matters about your will and your desire. The one thing the Latvians sure did was prove to the world that they can compete with the best in the world.”
The pluck shown by the Latvians was no surprise to the Sabres who’ve come to know Nolan since he stepped behind the bench in November.
“The way Latvia played, you could tell they were playing without fear,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “They were competing, and it’s exactly what Ted asks of you. You could tell that Ted was the coach of that team.”
The Latvian squad included Sabres rookie Zemgus Girgensons. The forward was in the arena Friday but will get a few days off.
“He deserves a couple days’ rest,” Nolan said. “We had some pretty good leadership on that team, and for Zemgus to be around that being so young, I think his growth was almost like adding another year onto his game.”
Girgensons sidestepped questions about his own game to keep the focus on his country.
“My performance doesn’t really reflect anything on me,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s what we accomplished as a team there. … Each game we battled hard, and each game we made our opponents sweat.”
He can relive the experience for the next few days, but like Nolan it’s back to work before long. The Sabres host Carolina on Tuesday in the first of three home games in four nights.
“We just had a day to get our hands back and our passing and our timing a little bit,” Nolan said. “We’ll up it a little bit and then the following day we’ll get into systems. We’ll be ready on the 25th.”