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John Kreiser | columnist | Oct. 2, 2006

After nine years away from the National Hockey League, no one is more eager for opening night than Ted Nolan.

"I can't wait to get started," says Nolan, who returned to the NHL this season as coach of the New York Islanders. Nolan hasn't been behind an NHL bench since 1996-97, when he won the Jack Adams Award by coaching the Buffalo Sabres to a surprising Adams Division title.

Nolan got back into coaching last season and quickly led Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the Memorial Cup championship game. This persuaded Isles owner Charles Wang that Nolan was the man to revitalize a team that fell apart down the stretch last spring.

Nolan and the Islanders begin their season Thursday night in Phoenix, the first stop on a season-opening four-game Western road trip. Though beginning the season 2,500 miles from home might sound like an odd idea, Nolan sees it as a chance for his players and a new coaching staff to come together as a team.

"We're trying to get to know each other," Nolan says. "The players who were here last year and the ones we brought in — it's a growing process. You don't just turn around and do that in three weeks of training camp. We've added some character onto the team -- (Chris) Simon, (Sean) Hill; they're adding an element that maybe wasn't here last year.

"People say that when you go on the road early, you build your team. This is a good way to start -- the weather should be nice, the guys will get a chance to go out to dinner and get together. We'll have a chance for teammates to get to know each other. It will be fun."

The Islanders played only five exhibition games, losing the first two before winning the last three — including a pair over their biggest rivals, the Rangers. The most notable thing about the Nolan-led Isles was their aggressiveness, something that was in short supply on Long Island last season.
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