Owen Liam Nolan was born on July 2nd, 1998 in the small town of Bangor in Belfast, Ireland. He became the youngest of three children, joining eldest brother Patrick and middle sister Elizabeth, to be born to parents Christopher and Katherine. At the time of Nolan's birth, hockey was not even remotely on the radar of the family. The Nolan's have tended to a legacy corn field that has been in their family for generations, earning them a reputation among Belfast as the best corn in Ireland. As is the case with most farm families, every member was expected to help out any way they could, with Christopher taking on the majority of work along his own dad (Nolan's grandfather) Thomas Nolan, while Katherine primarily looked after raising the children. Everything about the Nolan's painted a very 'Nuclear Family' type picture, right up until tragedy struck and Owen took the ice for the first time.
The Nolan corn field
Owen rarely had his interests captured with school, even from a young age. He prided himself on being a very hard worker and being able to lend a hand to help his brother, father, and grandfather back home on the farm. When asked about his favourite school subject he remembered growing up, Nolan answered "Geography, probably. I have always wanted to travel the world". Owen remembers textbooks depicting children his age playing unfamiliar sports like baseball and basketball and wondering why he had never been shown anything but Rugby and Football. After seeing a picture of players on an outdoor ice rink playing hockey, Owen became "obsessed", his father jokingly remarked.
The Nolan's were regulars at ice rinks in the area, because older sister Elizabeth had been involved in figure skating from the age of 7. But when Owen tried to describe the picture of hockey he saw to his parents, neither had any idea what he was talking about. They signed him up with his sister for figure skating instead, much to his dissatisfaction. Owen was a natural on the ice claims his sister. "Better skater than I was from the moment he stepped on". However it quickly became apparent that he was not going to figure skate at a high level. "Better skater, but much much worse dancer" Elizabeth joked. After a while, Owen forgot about his picture of hockey, associating it with other fairy tales he was told growing up. He prepared to get involved in rugby.
In April 2008, when Owen was 9 years old, Katherine was involved in a car accident that would take her life. "No one is prepared for that kind of thing" Owen says. "I remember the whole family having a hard time coping. Those following months were kind of a blur… and the farm got in pretty bad shape." Owen recounts that older brother Patrick soon after dropped out of school and never went back. Patrick would spend most of his time trying to maintain the farm and driving Elizabeth to and from figure skating practices. His father spent most of his time working, trying to hold his family together. On his 10th birthday, Owen received a gift to attend a hockey camp in Dublin, something his Mom had arranged months prior. "I just thought they wanted to get rid of me. I only found out it was Mom's idea until I was much, much older". He went on to say "it was exactly what I needed."
A first taste of hockey
Owen was on his own for the first time in his life, adding to an already exhausting summer. "I remember knowing nobody and feeling like I didn't measure up to the rest of the kids from the get go". "I still didn't believe that hockey was real" he went on to say. It took some time for Owen, but stepping onto the ice, all geared up, would become a form of therapy that summer. Nolan recalls having a lot of fun throughout the camp. "I think I would have enjoyed it even if I never played. Just reading the rules of the game was amazing". On the last day of camp, parents were invited to come watch their children play in a tournament composed of teams from players at the camp. Owen played 3 games that day, winning all of them, and collecting 15 points. He was named MVP. "After that, some of the coaches talked to my dad and I've been playing competitive hockey ever since".
A big move
Hockey dominated the rest of Owen's childhood and he dominated hockey in Ireland. At age 15, a scout told Owen's father that if Owen was serious about hockey, playing in Canada was the best way to get noticed. Nolan and his brother packed up and moved to St. Jacobs, Ontario the following year. "St. Jacobs has got to be the most Irish looking town in all Ontario", Owen laughs. That doesn't mean the transition wasn't hard. New country, new house, new friends, new school, and new hockey talent to go up against all played a role in Owen's new life. "I was told by my Dad that I could only stay in Canada if I kept my grades up. I studied lots those years". As much studying as Nolan claimed he did, he must have worked out even more. Nolan shot up to 6'1" and approached 190lbs as a senior in high school. "A couple of the lesser known junior teams wanted me to play for them because of size alone. I think I accepted the very first offer". Owen found eventually found success in everything; grades stayed good, hockey games were won, and he established himself as one of the best hockey prospects in the game. "After graduating high school, I was hoping VHLM was a possibility right away. I didn't know it would take 2 more years".
As Owen aged up, he played better and better. Unfortunately this worked against him with many scouts knocking him for being an "overager" and crediting most of his success to being older than his competition. "At some point I had to stop listening to the scouts and just do it". Nolan declares himself for the VHLM draft, fully preparing himself to not get drafted and to have to live in a future without playing professional hockey. On his 21st birthday, July 2nd 2019, the draft began. "You hope to get lucky. That someone saw you play enough times and remembered you enough to want you". In the 6th round, Nolan was selected by none other than the Halifax 21sts. "Going to the 21sts on my 21st birthday was unreal. The luck of the Irish was with me that day". Nolan is excited to start his next chapter in the VHL. There is still lots of work ahead of him.