Former pro turned high school coach: Doug Nolan leads Archbishop Williams girls hockey

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There aren't many high school athletic programs with a former pro on its bench.

The Archbishop Williams High girls hockey team is one of them, and Doug Nolan is making the most of his new gig.

Nolan, a Quincy native, was drafted 282nd overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft and played 12 years across the AHL and overseas leagues. After retiring in 2011, he returned to his hometown to start a company named 'Pro Edge Hockey Development' to host offseason skills camps and now, 10 years later, the former defenseman is in his first season as a high school head coach.

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“It’s probably been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve had so much fun with it," Nolan said. "I have a great group of girls and I’m really happy with where I’m at in working with them and developing them. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Archbishop Williams coach Doug Nolan watches the action during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
Archbishop Williams coach Doug Nolan watches the action during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

Prior to this season, Nolan spent three years coaching his daughters, Shea and Kendyl, on their separate club teams. With both now enrolled at Archies, the head-coaching opportunity was almost too good to pass up.

Coaching his two daughters does present a challenge, though.

“It has its ups and downs. It’s a tough dynamic at times," Nolan said. "I try to be hard on them just as I’m hard on everybody else. If you’re hard on your own kids, you hold them accountable, it’s a good example for the kids to see that I’m looking out for their best interests. Overall, it’s been very rewarding and fun to coach them.”

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Shea is a freshman forward and Kendyl is an eighth-grade defenseman. Nolan played defense for a vast majority of his professional career and also grew up playing forward from youth hockey through college, up until his second year in the pros. He knows both positions well and sees aspects of his game in his daughters, but each are growing to become their own player.

“Kendyl is kind of like me, a stay-at-home defenseman, not too offensive but pretty solid back there and makes good decisions. And Shea, as a forward, is a lot like me too. A good skater, very aggressive, hard on pucks and just works really hard," Nolan said. "They both have a little of me in them, so it’s kind of fun to see them develop and grow.”

Archbishop Williams coach Doug Nolan makes a point during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
Archbishop Williams coach Doug Nolan makes a point during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

Entering the coaching realm was a fairly easy decision for Nolan. During his playing career, he coveted stability and grew jealous of the structure a 9-5 job offers. He tried his hand at an office job after retiring from hockey, but grew 'lost and miserable’ and kept a wandering eye on a return to hockey – only this time, he was keen on the development of others instead of his own.

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“It’s very rewarding as a coach to see these kids go from mites just learning to skate and now, some of them are going on to high-end high schools and college,” Nolan said.

Making season-to-season stops, the professional roller-coaster supplied Nolan with some unique stories to pull from when he's now instructing his own players. He played under former Stanley Cup winning coach Mike Babcock with the AHL's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and Jim Hughes – father of New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and Luke Hughes, the fourth overall pick (New Jersey) in the 2021 draft – during a stint playing in Russia.

Nolan says the two were similar in their approach. Nolan's lasting memory of playing for Babcock was how he would often pull a player aside in between shifts and spark a productive conversation.

“He would always ask me about what I saw. I thought, as a player, that was a pretty cool thing for a coach (to do)," Nolan said of Babcock. "I think that’s a pretty valuable lesson for me as a high school coach, to talk to kids about what they saw and if they’re making good decisions."

Archbishop Williams coach Doug Nolan speaks to his players during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
Archbishop Williams coach Doug Nolan speaks to his players during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

Nolan calls hockey a game of mistakes, saying 80 percent of it is confidence-driven through making impactful decisions on the ice in a moment's notice. He's had coaches who shouted and he's had others more instructive – and there's knowledge to be extracted from each of his experiences.

“If you can teach high school kids about accountability, hard work, confidence and playing for each other, I think it’s a great lesson. The rest takes care of itself, the X’s and O’s, that piece of it," Nolan said. "Any kid that’s 15, 16, 17 years old, that accountability and work ethic piece is something they can use for the rest of their lives, whether it be hockey or the real world.”

To this day, Nolan still runs skill camps in the offseason with the youth hockey program in his hometown of Quincy.

“That’s where I grew up playing hockey at 3-4 years old. I’ll never forget where I came from," Nolan said. "I’m always going to work for those kids."

Archbishop Williams' Caroline Batchelder celebrates a goal during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
Archbishop Williams' Caroline Batchelder celebrates a goal during a game against Weymouth at Canton Sportsplex on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

In the former defenseman's first season at the helm, Archbishop Williams started the opening chunk of the schedule on a good note with a 6-1-1 record and defense was a primary reason why. Nolan's crew, which includes just three seniors, allowed eight goals in the first eight games.

After the quick start, the Bishops stumbled into a three-game losing streak but bounced back with a pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday. The midseason adversity has served as yet another learning experience for the young team and its first-year coach.

“Right now, we’ve lost a couple games in a row here and we gave them a day off from the rink," Nolan said before the weekend's games. "Press the reset button to get physically and mentally ready for a stretch run where we can make some noise.”

This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Former pro Doug Nolan at the helm of Archbishop Williams girls hockey

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