EL SEGUNDO, CA — A few nights ago, people in the small Canadian city of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan shared reasons to celebrate with residents of the Ojibway (one of Canada’s First Nations) reserve in Garden River, Ontario.
On February 11, Meadow Lake’s Dwight King, and Garden River’s Jordan Nolan, each made their 2011-12 debut with the Los Angeles Kings—for Nolan, it was his National Hockey League debut as well—in a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
Although the loss may have tempered the celebratory mood, both King and Nolan gave the folks back home more reasons to celebrate less than 24 hours later, when they both scored their first NHL goals in a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in Dallas.
“It was great,” said King, who, along with Nolan, faced an unusually large throng of local reporters at the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo, California on February 14. “Couldn’t have happened [in a better way], with me and [Nolan] on the same night. It’ll be a memory forever, and to have an easy one was nice.”
Nolan’s goal was even more special, as it turned out to be the game-winning goal.
“I’m not sure, I probably just blacked out for a bit,” the 22-year-old, 6-3. 227-pound forward said about his reaction after scoring the goal. “It was a big thrill, especially with [veteran center] Mike [Richards] setting me up, and it turned out to be the game-winner.”
“Dwight got his first, too,” Nolan added. “We were pretty happy on the plane ride back.”
Nolan indicated that, like many other players, he received a considerable number of congratulatory phone calls and text messages.
“I have lots of buddies who have been really supporting me, along with my family back in Garden River,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. All the support from back home, a small community. Everybody showed their love. It was great.”
King and Nolan were recalled on February 10, but neither one was thinking about playing in the NHL this season when the phone rang.
“I was pretty surprised,” said Nolan, who lived with King and defenseman prospect Jake Muzzin. “We had that morning off. I was sleeping, and Dwight knocked on my [door], so he’s the one who actually told me that we got called up.”
“He said, ‘wake up, and pack up. We’re leaving in an hour.’”
“[Nolan will] get to remember that forever—his first call-up,” said King, who played in six games with the Kings last season, making his NHL debut on November 17, 2010, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I got to tell him. It’s a good story.”
“For both of us to get the call, it was extremely exciting,” added King. “We heard [about] the injury to [forward Jarret Stoll], the night before we got called. For both of us to get the opportunity to play here, it’s great.”
“I had six games [with the Kings last season], but it was so long ago, the excitement of it was just like the first time. We were both extremely excited during the ride to New York. We had a four-hour car ride, so we had some time to really take it in.”
During his brief stint with the Kings last season, King, who was selected by the Kings in the fourth round (109th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, looked out of place. But he has held his own in two games during his current stint with the big club.
“You grow as a player, but that was over a year ago,” the 22-year-old 6-3, 234-pound left wing noted. “The mental aspect of the game…that was the biggest thing, knowing how to prepare myself for every game, every shift, and to focus more on the little intangibles. So far, that’s been working well for me.”
With another year of development under his belt, added confidence is giving King a boost as well.
“The first time [in the NHL], you’re nervous, and you’re not sure exactly what your role is, or what you can bring to a team,” he emphasized. “But this time around, I’m confident in my game. I know what I can bring, and how to be effective out there.”
“Everybody here is a little bigger, a little more mature,” he added. “When you go into battle, you know they’re going to be prepared to compete with you. But I’m a pretty big guy myself, so if I prepare myself to go in there and compete, it turns out all right, most of the time.”
Given the fact that King had a taste of the NHL last season, Nolan was probably just a bit more nervous in his first NHL game against the New York Islanders.
“I just think the first period was an eye-opener for me,” said Nolan, who was selected by the Kings in the seventh round (186th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. “We (Nolan and King) were a little rusty out there, trying to adapt to the speed and pace of the game. But, after that, we started to get more comfortable.”
“In the AHL, you can hold onto the puck a little longer,” added Nolan. “But up there, [you have to get it] on and off your stick as quickly as you can.”
King said Nolan was able to maintain his composure despite the combination of nerves and excitement.
“It’s human nature to get a little bit amped up, but he played really well [against the Islanders],” King noted. “It probably took us both one period to really get into it. It was good to see him do well.”
“It’s still hockey,” King added. “You can’t control some emotions, but he’s a good hockey player. He knows what to do when he gets out there, and he’s pretty calm, too. He doesn’t get too worked up. He did pretty well, [in terms of] adjusting.”
Like many prospects, past and present, Nolan, who was one of the last prospects cut from the Kings training camp this season, pointed to hard work as the reason he got the call.
“I just went down [to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate], worked hard, and whenever I got the call, I was going to be ready,” he noted. “I just wanted to work my hardest, and hope that they were watching.”
“We’re just taking it day-by-day, working to keep the coaching staff happy, and work our hardest,” he added.
“The young guys gave us some energy, [and they] went to the net,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “You’ve got to play to your strengths, right? If you’re a big guy, play big. If you can skate, skate. If you’re a good defender, defend, whatever it is, right?”
As reported earlier, King and Nolan are playing on a line with Richards, replacing Stoll and left wing Dustin Penner, who has been a healthy scratch in the last two games.
“We were a little shocked, because we didn’t know we were going to play [against the Islanders], but [head coach Darryl Sutter] told us that we were going to play [on a line] with Mike,” said King. “That was a pretty special feeling.”
“[Richards is] a pretty composed guy,” King added. “He likes hard workers, and that’s what we try to provide. We try to get in there, get pucks for him, and give him time to make more plays out there. So far, it’s been great. He’s made it pretty easy for us.”
“[Richards told King and Nolan] just work hard, and keep the puck moving forward,” said Nolan. “He’s a pretty smart player, so we’re just trying to get the puck to him as much as possible.”
Despite a solid two games for both young players, Sutter is demanding more.
“Did they do anything special? No,” Sutter stressed following practice on February 14. “Do they have to be better? Yes.”
Nolan comes from a hockey family, with brother D.J. King having played parts of six seasons in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals (he is currently with the AHL’s Hershey Bears), and father, Ted Nolan, who was the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons, and also spent two seasons as the Islanders head coach (2006-07 and 2007-08).
Nolan’s brother and mother were at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island to see his NHL debut.
“That first game, my Mom was pretty emotional, and when I got that first game, she could barely talk to me,” said Nolan. “She was tearing up. She was so happy for me and proud of me.”
“I didn’t get to talk to my Dad [Ted Nolan coached the Latvian national team] until the next day, because he was [on a flight], but he’s extremely proud of me, and all the hard work I’ve put in,” added Nolan. “They’re always there for me.”
“We’re a pretty big hockey family, but we don’t talk about hockey too much. [But] if I need a little kick in the butt to get going, [his father] will say something. He’s watched a few games. He’s just trying to make me feel good about myself, [telling me] to work hard out there, and keep it going.”
As reported earlier in this story, King and Nolan are playing with Richards, so something had to give. With Stoll being placed on injured reserve, the Kings’ brain trust did not have to make a lineup decision involving him. But Penner was another story.
Indeed, Penner found himself out of the lineup, and, it looks like it could be a long time before he returns…if he does at all.
When asked what Penner needs to do to get back in the lineup, Sutter was very, very blunt.
“Work your [rear end] off,” he said of Penner. “Then you’ll get a chance to play again. If you don’t, you don’t. It’s pretty clear.”
Sutter also indicated that Penner will have to work his way back up the ladder from the ground level. When asked if Penner was back at square one, Sutter was, once again, blunt.
“I think when you’re told to work your ass off, that is square one.”
Motivation and consistent hard work have been issues for Penner throughout his NHL career. As such, to coin a phrase, can an old dog learn new tricks?
For Penner’s sake one can only hope.
Raw Audio Interviews From Los Angeles Kings Practice, February 14, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Dwight King (4:25)
Jordan Nolan (4:47)
Darryl Sutter (5:42)
- Rookie Left Wing Dwight King Has Been Quite The Surprise For Los Angeles Kings
- Los Angeles Kings Rookie Left Wing Dwight King’s Wildest Dreams Are Coming True
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home games against the Phoenix Coyotes (February 16, 7:30 PM – Coyotes vs. Kings), the Calgary Flames (February 18, 7:00 PM – Flames vs. Kings), as well as for other games on their schedule, are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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