Los Angeles Kings' Kyle Clifford (13), Trevor Lewis (22) and the bench congratulate Jordan Nolan (71) on his goal in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, in Dallas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/(AP/Tony Gutierrez
Jordan Nolan may have deep hockey bloodlines, but his road to the NHL was far from easy.
It was just three years ago the Los Angeles Kings selected him 186th overall—as sure of sign as any that another career may be beckoning—and that was after he'd been completely passed over in two previous entry drafts.
Yet there Nolan was last weekend celebrating his first NHL goal in his second game wearing a Kings sweater. It was a moment that spoke to the power of perseverance.
"I had to earn a NHL contract, which a lot of people didn't think I'd get," Nolan said Wednesday in an interview. "And then I had to earn my way into the American Hockey League. I was playing on the top line down there, which was pretty exciting.
"I've had to earn lots of stuff, nothing's been given to me, but I always had a self belief in myself that one day I'd play in the NHL."
By now, that's a well-worn path for his family: father, Ted, played 78 games in the NHL and went on to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year with the Buffalo Sabres; and older brother, Brandon, played a handful of games with the Carolina Hurricanes before having his career ended by a concussion in 2008.
At about that same time, there was every chance Jordan's career wouldn't extend much beyond the Ontario Hockey League. He readily admits that he didn't reach his potential during stints with the Windsor Spitfires and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
"My last few years in junior, they weren't the greatest seasons for me," said Nolan.
Everything began to change once the Kings drafted him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. It was the kick he needed to start committing a little more to his diet and workout plan.
"I think it took a lot of focus off the ice and a lot of commitment in the summers to get where I am now," said Nolan. "I committed hard this summer, put in a lot of work and ate healthy, and I had a pretty good start to the season (with AHL Manchester)."
The call from the Kings came as a surprise.
Ted Nolan was unable to make it to Long Island for Jordan's NHL debut last week because he was busy overseas with his duties as coach of the Latvian national team. Mother Sandra and brother Brandon were in attendance.
Jordan's stay in the NHL got even more memorable the following day when he took a pass from Mike Richards and scored the game-winning goal in Dallas.
"My phone lit up right after the game," he said.
Ted Nolan has since returned to North America and is eager to get to a Kings game. However, there are no firm plans for it to happen since Jordan's current status with the team is far from secure.
While acknowledging that his dad had played a major role in his career, Jordan indicated that he's always been reluctant to get too involved.
"My dad was obviously the coach so he tried to get away from the rink and just have a normal life," he said. "He didn't really harp too much on us playing hockey or making it to the NHL. He was just more about a good family life.
"He's not really big on giving me tips or advice when it comes to hockey—just more or less just working hard or staying focused."
Nolan is now living out his dream, but knows it could end at any moment.
He was called up from the AHL along with roommate Dwight King last week and the pair immediately found themselves playing alongside Richards. However, with Jarret Stoll nearing a return from injury, they're painfully aware it might not last.
"I could be sent down tomorrow and not play for another few years," said Nolan. "Right now we're taking it day by day. We haven't heard anything about how long we're staying. So we can't really afford to have a practice or game off.
"That's the approach I'm taking."