Nick Polano played just a small amount of games in the North American Hockey League but was a head coach for two full seasons. The man that would become head coach of the Detroit Red Wings for three years in the 1980’s finished his playing career and started his coaching career in the NAHL.
Nick Polano – NAHL
Polano played 19 regular season games for the Cape Cod Cubs during the inaugural 1973-74 NAHL season. The defenseman scored one goal and assisted on five. He also acted as head coach, replacing Bronco Horvath midseason.
In the Lockhart Cup playoffs, Cape Cod was bounced in six by the Long Island Cougars in the semi-finals. Nick played eight playoff games with just an assist to show for his efforts.
After a year away from the league, Polano returned as head coach of the Erie Blades for the 1975-76 NAHL season. The Blades placed third in the five team West Division during the regular season. In the playoffs, Erie fell in the opening round to the Philadelphia Firebirds. The series went the full five games with the Firebirds winning three games to two. At one point, the Blades had a 2-1 series lead.
Polano returned to Erie for 1976-77, the final season of the NAHL. The Blades finished fifth in the eight team league. Erie then advanced to the semi-finals before losing to the Syracuse Blazers, four games to one.
Nick Polano – Pro Hockey
After two years of junior hockey, 1958-59 and 1959-60, with the Hamilton Tiger Cubs of the Ontario Hockey Association (Currently the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League), Polano moved on to a lengthy career in pro hockey. He never played in the National Hockey League but Nick was found everywhere else, including the IHL, EPHL, WHL, AHL, CPHL, WHA and NAHL.
His pro career started in 1959-60 when he split his final year of junior between the Tiger Cubs and the Louisville Rebels of the IHL. It ended with the Cape Cod Cubs in 1973-74.
Never a champion, he came close to Calder Cup victories in the American Hockey League twice. In 1966-67 with the Baltimore Clippers, Polano reached the AHL semi-finals before being ousted by the Rochester Americans. In 1970-71, as a member of the Providence Reds, Nick got a taste of the finals when the Reds faced off against the Springfield Kings for the Calder Cup. Springfield easily handled Providence with a four game sweep.
His only major league action came in 1972-73. As a member of the star-studded and underachieving Philadelphia Blazers of the World Hockey Association, Polano played 17 games on the point, contributing three assists.
Nick Polano – Coach
Polano carried on with the Erie Blades after the NAHL ceased to exist. He coached the Blades in the NEHL and EHL from 1978-79 to 1980-81.
In 1981-82, his NHL career was finally under way. He took an assistant coach job with the Buffalo Sabres under head coach Scotty Bowman. In his only year with the Sabres, Buffalo lost in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, 3-1 to the Boston Bruins.
The following year, he took the head coaching job with the Detroit Red Wings. He remained behind the bench in Detroit for three years from 1982-83 to 1984-85. In the first year, the Wings did not qualify for the post season. In 1983-84, Steve Yzerman’s rookie year with the club, Detroit made the post season but lost in the opening round to the St. Louis Blues, three games to one.
In his final year as a head coach in the National Hockey League, Polano once again led his team into the post season, despite a not so special regular season record. The 1984-85 Red Wings met the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and were soundly thrashed. In the three game sweep, the Blackhawks outscored the Red Wings 23-8 on victories of 9-5, 6-1 and 8-2.