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If you didn't know any better, one would have thought Ted Nolan was just another guy behind the visiting bench in Buffalo on New Year's Day.

No welcome back message to the guy who sparkled in two seasons as coach of the hometown Sabres. You know, the man who won NHL coach of the year honors on his way out of Buffalo 10 years ago.

Nolan stayed out of the NHL after parting ways with the Sabres in a contract dispute following a 40-30-12 mark in the 1996-97 season. His name surfaced from time to time as other teams filled coaching vacancies, but it wasn't until the New York Islanders gave him another look in June that he finally landed a job.

This week, Nolan made his first official visit back to Buffalo and the Sabres chose to ignore the occasion.

No warm hello on the scoreboard, no video montage. Nothing for the coach who won 77 games, led the Sabres to the Northeast Division title and guided them to a playoff series victory over Ottawa.

"It's sad," a disappointed Nolan said after the Islanders' 3-1 loss Monday. "It would have been nice if someone who had accomplished something here in the past was acknowledged."

If the Sabres had the heart to recognize Nolan, it would have given the coach the chance to say hello and thank you to the fans who still appreciate what he did.

"It was crazy," Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro said. "I knew he was popular here, but I didn't know the extent of it."

Buffalo supporters still think highly of Nolan, who received a big ovation last year when his video message on Pat LaFontaine Night was shown during the jersey retirement ceremony.

"When they're chanting, 'Let's Go Teddy' in the hotel hallways at 4:30 in the morning, you have to figure he was pretty popular," DiPietro said

Lindy Ruff, the man who replaced him, has picked up the support Nolan had. Ruff is still in Buffalo, currently the longest-tenured coach with one club in the NHL.

He has guided the Sabres to the best mark in the Eastern Conference through the first half of this season, earning the right to be behind the bench in the All-Star game later this month.

"Buffalo is a hardworking town and they wanted a hardworking team," Nolan said of his days with the Sabres. "Hopefully, we started that trend. Now they've got a great team and they're playing hard."
 
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