Born on the Garden River First Nation Reserve just outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Nolan was a member of the First Nations Ojibway tribe. He was a dogged computer for two years with the hometown Greyhounds of the OHA and was chosen 78th overall by the Red Wings at the 1978 amateur draft. Nolan apprenticed for three years in the minors before scoring 17 points in 41 games as a rookie with the Red Wings in 1981-82. He played briefly in Detroit two years later but was chiefly a regular on the AHL's Adirondack Red Wings during this time.
Nolan joined the Buffalo Sabres organization in 1984-85 and was an important player for their Rochester Americans farm team. He never played for the parent club and was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he played 18 games in 1985-86 before retiring after suffering two ruptured discs in his lower back.
An excellent motivational speaker, Nolan traveled coast to coast to address native Canadians on the importance of rising above racial taunts and believing in themselves. He returned home to coach the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL in 1988 and enrolled at Lake Superior State to study business administration. Nolan gained a solid reputation in the Soo and was named the OHL coach of the year in 1991 and helped the franchise win its first Memorial Cup in 1993.
Nolan reached the NHL in 1994-95 as an assistant coach with the Hartford Whalers. He then coached the Buffalo Sabres for two years and was presented the Jack Adams Award in 1997 after leading the club to a 40-win season. A nasty contract impasse followed and Nolan was replaced by Lindy Ruff the following year as Buffalo's bench boss. After leaving the NHL he continued with his work with the National Natives against Drug and Alcohol Abuse and his own hockey school.
Courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame