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Thunderbirds’ Volcan aims to add to family’s championship pedigree
Brian Liesse

 

Kent, Wash. – Nolan Volcan never dreamed of the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now, he’s hoping to take that reality a step further and etch his family name in Western Hockey League history.

Volcan – an 18-year-old product of Edmonton, Alta., in his third season with the Seattle Thunderbirds – was afforded the chance to play his major junior hockey in the Emerald City back in 2013 when he was taken by the T-Birds with the 27th overall pick at the WHL Bantam Draft nearly 30 years after his father, Marty, suited up for the Seattle Breakers during the 1984-85 season.

“Honestly, I don’t think I talked to Seattle at all,” Nolan said, reflecting back on the days leading up to the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. “I talked to a couple teams, but just not Seattle. When I got selected by [the Thunderbirds], it was pretty exciting. It was an exciting day for me, my mom and my dad. It’s been great so far, I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”

Nolan has made good during his tenure in Seattle, building to a career season in 2016-17, which saw him post 16 goals, 28 assists and 44 points in 64 games as a third-year Thunderbird. For his father, Marty – who spent 28 games with the Breakers back in 1984-85 – it’s been a blast watching his son mature and succeed in the same city where his own WHL career began.

“For him to be here in Seattle and now in his third year, I’m tickled pink,” Marty said. “It’s a great league and a real hard division here in the U.S. I think he has benefitted from the experience. Playing with quality guys like Mathew Barzal, Keegan [Kolesar], Ethan [Bear] and the veterans that were there before, it’s been pretty special.

“I’m so happy for Nolan for the opportunity that the Western League has given him and given lots of kids. It’s something we, as Canadians, need to be very proud of. We’re able to take our Canadian talent and develop it in our own country where there’s Europeans and all kinds of people coming to this country to learn how to play our game. I’m very proud of the Western League, the CHL and what they’ve done.”

Able to fill a variety of roles – be that as a checking forward or provider of secondary offense – Nolan has seen steady increases in his production since joining the Thunderbirds as a 16-year-old in 2014-15. He notched 23 points (9G-14A) in 67 games as a rookie before tallying 31 points (16G-15A) in 59 games as a sophomore. Then came career bests in assists (28) and points (44) during the 2016-17 campaign.

“It’s been great,” said the 5-foot-9, 191-pound left winger. “Moving away when I was 16 was a learning curve, trying to get used to being away from home, but I’ve lived with a good billet my three years here and the team has been great. I’ve really grown as a player and a person.

“I just came into this season strong. I had a good summer of training and at the start of the year we were missing Barz, Keegan and Gropper [Ryan Gropp], too. Guys had to step up and I thought we filled the roles fairly well and did our best until those guys were able to come back.”

Helping out in his own way throughout was Marty. A flexible work scheduled afforded him the opportunity to get down to Seattle regularly and when that wasn’t an option, he caught his son’s games on WHL Live, providing supportive feedback at every step.

“Guys always joke that it’s like he never leaves,” Nolan said, laughing. “My first two years, it made it a lot easier having my dad come down as much as possible. It made me feel a lot more comfortable.

“My dad has been a big part of my career so far. He coached me growing up and I think he’s helped me go in the right direction with hockey and life in general. He’s been a big role model for me.”

While Nolan has spent the entirety of his WHL career in Seattle, his father moved around and was even one of the rare few to play on both sides of a heated U.S. Division rivalry – having suited up for both the Breakers and the Portland Winterhawks. He finished his WHL career with 97 regular season contests under his belt after wrapping up his tour with the Victoria Cougars in 1985-86.

With that said, elite athleticism runs in the Volcan family. Marty spent his time in the WHL, while his brother Mickey played 12 playoff games for the Portland Winterhawks before becoming a third-round selection (50th) of the Hartford Whalers at the 1980 NHL Draft and going on to play 162 games spread between the Whalers and Calgary Flames.

Still, the Volcan family moniker was never inked into the WHL history books as a champion and it didn’t find its way onto the Stanley Cup either. Rather, Volcan is engraved on the Grey Cup – the grail awarded to the kings of the Canadian Football League (CFL).

Michael Volcan – the father of Marty and Mickey – played for nine years in the CFL as a guard/tackle for the Edmonton Eskimos. The late Volcan was a Grey Cup champion in back-to-back seasons – 1955 and 1956 – and was also named the Most Valuable Player for the Eskimos in 1962.

Though you might have to dig back more than 60 years and look to the gridiron as opposed to the ice rink, championship pedigree runs in the Volcan family blood and Marty has his fingers crossed that his son will be able to add to that legacy in 2017.

“It would be truly unbelievable,” Marty said. “We’re fortunate enough to be on the Grey Cup twice.

“[The Ed Chynoweth Cup] is a great trophy… Your league championship, to me, is like the Stanley Cup. To win the west, to win your league is something special. It would be just awesome.”

For Nolan, not only does he want to do it for his father – who has given him so much along the way – he wants to do it for the faithful in Seattle, a city and fan base that wears its collective heart on its sleeve, night in and night out since 1977 without having yet been able to relish in the glory of a Western Hockey League Championship.

“It would be great,” Nolan said. “Obviously the fans, I’m sure they’re hungry for it, too. It’s been what, 40 years? We want to do it for them and make sure we leave everything on the ice, make sure at the end of the series we can look ourselves in the mirror and make sure we gave it our all.”

Now, Nolan and the Thunderbirds find themselves entrenched in what stands as a best-of-three slate to finish off the best-of-seven WHL Championship Series after sawing off the proceedings through four games with the Regina Pats. Following Friday night’s Game 5 at the ShoWare Center in Kent, the series soars back to the Land of Living Skies where Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7 will be played at the Brandt Centre in the Queen City.

“Realizing it’s a three-game series now, it’s tight,” Nolan said. “Every game matters, obviously. You can’t take any shifts off, especially against Regina. They’re a great team. We know they’re going to bounce back hard and they’re going to come out hard. We have to match that.

“Playing Kelowna, they were a great team and they really helped us get ready for this series. Same thing with Regina – they’re a great team. We know that every night, you can’t take a night off or it’s going to bite you. Be ready to play every game and make sure you give it 100 per cent out there.”

Game 5 of the 2017 WHL Championship presented by Rogers gets underway at 7:35 p.m. PT at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

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