While the Portland Winterhawks prepare for a playoff run, they are also stocking up for the future with a core of 2001-born players.
Kade Nolan is showing this season just how deep the 17-year-old class is for the Winterhawks.
The 2016 WHL Bantam draft is already proving to be a successful draft for Portland. The Winterhawks did so with an emphasis on players from the Notre Dame Hounds Bantam AAA team in the CSSHL (Canadian Sport School Hockey League).
Reece Newkirk (third round), Kade Nolan (fourth round), and Jaydon Dureau (eighth round) were all selected in 2016. Nolan said, “I remember when draft day came and we all went to the same place, it was kind of unreal. I couldn’t really believe it.”
May 5, 2016, the day of the WHL bantam draft, is a day Kade will never forget.
Nolan had no indication Portland was going to select him, “Talked to them (Portland) once or twice, but I really had no idea. I didn’t really know what to expect; I was just hoping for the best.”
Where did the Rouleau, SK native find out he was drafted, French class?
Safe to say French class was disrupted as one of Kade’s bantam teammates, Luke Mylymok, was selected by Victoria one pick earlier.
“Actually I was in French class when I found out” Nolan said. “Probably shouldn’t have been on my computer, but I was following on the live feed. I then saw my name pop up there right after one of my buddies who was on the [Notre Dame Hounds] too. I couldn’t really believe it, but everyone swarmed around me.”
Kade was honest in saying, “I had to do a quick google search on Portland. I got a call and was like ‘where is this?’ So I had to go on google and find out where it is. I saw some pictures and thought, ‘oh, this place looks really nice.’”
When asked if he celebrated in English or French, Kade said with a laugh, “English. I couldn’t really speak any French.”
For the 17-year-old though, seeing his name on the live feed was just the beginning.
After the draft, “I got to play another year of midget with Jaydon Dureau too. We got to build another bond there.”
The now Winterhawks teammates played together on the Saskatoon Blazers in 2016-2017 before going their separate ways last season.
For Nolan, “it was all about preparation: training, getting stronger, getting bigger and faster. I was just preparing for the next level step-by-step each year.”
The next big milestone for the rookie defenseman was signing his WHL contract with the Winterhawks on January 30, 2017.
Portland’s associate coach Kyle Gustafson said, “We drafted Kade and had a lot of value into him. [Nolan] is a defenseman who gets up the ice well, has a competitive spirit about him. He brings it every game, every practice. You know you are going to get that competitive nature; you know he has that in him.”
Nolan spoke about getting signed, “I was training towards that point trying to get signed here. I got a phone call and they wanted to sign me. It was kind of an unreal opportunity, and I thought ‘okay, this could be a reality for me.’ After that point, I decided I needed to work even harder. Getting signed was just the first step. I knew I had a lot more to get to where I wanted to be.”
Kade said the first person he called “was my mother”. However, there was a slight twist.
“She had known beforehand” Nolan said. “She already knew what was going on, but she was supposed to be quiet and let them call me. My mom kept it a secret.”
So far, so good in Portland for Nolan
In his rookie season Kade Nolan has appeared in 25 games for the Winterhawks.
Overall he describes his season as “going pretty well. We have a three defenseman rotation between [Nick] Perna, [Nick] Cicek, and me; just battling to see who gets into the spot. There have been a few injuries here and there so it has allowed us to step up into the lineup.”
Portland Winterhawks Head Coach Mike Johnston spoke about the rotation, “With some of our young defensemen they get rotated in. It is not really a healthy scratch; it is just a rotating in depending on what is happening.”
Despite the trio battling for ice time, it doesn’t impact their relationship, “We have been pretty tight. We are always joking with each other on and off the ice. We have been paired up most of the practices, so we got to know each other pretty well.”
Nolan discussed the importance of staying mentally engaged with the rotation, “Being in and out of the lineup is kind of tough sometimes, but you just have to stick with it. I just have to be prepared for every game. Need to keep being good in practices and working out.”
Johnston discussed Nolan’s game so far three-fourths into the season, “I think Kade’s game keeps getting better and better. I’m really happy with where he is right now.”
Gustafson, who coaches the defense, spoke about the pairings, “We are a group that any defense can play with any guy. At this level we don’t smother them with matchups. We want them to play by playing against better players. That is something we’ve always had a philosophy here. We are not going to put guys on the ice, pull them off, then put them back on the ice against this guy or that guy. We want to be careful that the kid succeeds in that role, but make sure they aren’t tied down to that.”
Nolan feels a big portion of his success this season is a result of the relationship he has with his former Notre Dame Hounds teammates, “Having friends sure helps show you around. Especially with Reece being on the team in his second year. He kind of knows what is going on and around. [Newkirk] has helped me a lot. I’m living with Jaydon [Dureau] which has helped me with living away from home; making it easier living away from family.”
Kade’s hope is to continue to play his game which he defined, “I’m a two-way player. I think I’m more defensively strong, not a flashy player. I like to play safe and just want to be reliable in my own zone.”
Gustafson likes what he has seen from the 17-year-old rookie but is “another guy we are trying to give a little bit more. You will see him on the penalty kill sometimes and against some of the other team’s top-six forwards. Kade has responded well and is a guy that definitely will have a bright future for us.”
The most important aspect for the coaching staff is to continue to see the development.
“With Kade, we are always on him in practice with options, better reads, asking what did you see here” Gustafson mentioned. “Defensively we feel he is sound. There are some things away from the puck he can do better at; however, those are natural things you work on with young kids.”
Johnston added, “He is smart and moves the puck quick. He is going to be more of a defensive defenseman. It looks like he is still growing and is a young kid. He is going to have some size, but I like where his game is at.”
Gustafson praised Nolan’s future saying, “I see him as a strong two-way guys. His skating is there, a strong guy who move the puck hard, a first option guy.”
In his 25 games, Nolan has one assist, but is not a concern for Portland’s associate coach, “He doesn’t necessarily have the numbers in his rookie season, but we aren’t concerned about that. We know that stuff is going to come with his hard work.”
So far this season, the highlight for Nolan was the eastern road trip, “I had people at every game which was pretty great. All my buddies said, ‘I’m bringing so-and-so and we are coming to watch the game.’ I could see them in the stands or whatever in between periods. After the game they would come out and say hi.”
As his rookie season winds down and Nolan prepares for the playoffs his focus is on the number of divisional games, “We have some crucial games here down the stretch. We have been preparing all year for this. We know we have to take another step in our game if we want to be successful. Also, the atmosphere is always great in those games and the guys are always fired up for those games.”
Mike Johnston’s comment saying “Other than our two 20-year-olds, the other six guys are going to be with us [next year]. That is a great group of defense.”
Kade Nolan found a spot in Portland and is a key component in the Winterhawks future blue line.