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Jets fans react to firing of Noel with surprise, optimism

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Rob Gibson and his son, Ethan, say Winnipeg's status as a 'hockey town' means fans have high expectations of their NHL team.

JAMES TURNER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Rob Gibson and his son, Ethan, say Winnipeg's status as a 'hockey town' means fans have high expectations of their NHL team. Photo Store

The firing of well-liked Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel is sparking a mixture of surprise and cautious optimism among devout fans, who say it was clear a shakeup was in order given the NHL team's lacklustre play of late.

"Something needs to be rattled in that dressing room, and sometimes the coach is what rattles things," said Karen Ackerman in an interview at the MTS Iceplex. "I don't think Claude Noel was tough enough on his players," she said.

The former head coach of the now-defunct Manitoba Moose, Noel was hired to coach the Jets after the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment in 2011 and relocated to Winnipeg.

Noel will be replaced by Paul Maurice, who has more than 1,100 NHL games as a coach with the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Fresh changes, fresh look, new systems," is what Ackerman said she hopes Maurice will bring to the Jets, a team in the midst of a five-game losing slide. " (It will) maybe shake up the emotional status of the team," she added.

It was clear from watching players on the bench during games that they're in a rut and lacking chemistry, said Ackerman. "They're not having fun."

"Winnipeg is a hockey town, so there's a lot of expectations," said Rob Gibson, who with 11-year-old son, Ethan, absorbed news of Noel's dismissal after showing up at the Iceplex to take in a Jets practice, which was ultimately cancelled.

"It is a shocker," Gibson said. But a lack of consistency in the team's play — now in its third year in Winnipeg — made it clear something needed to change. "You want to see passion in every game," said Gibson.

The hope was by year three the new incarnation of the Jets would be playoff contenders, said Gibson. To him, the team's quickly vanishing post-season prospects paved the way to Noel's firing. "That's what it boils down to," he said.

"There definitely had to be a shake up of some sort," said Bob Hainsworth, the driver for the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Now, all eyes will turn to Maurice in hopes of seeing the Jets jolted out of the NHL's basement.

"If (Maurice) can get players onto his system — they've got nowhere to go but forward," he said.

"We just want to see them play competitively," Ackerman said. "I'm hoping he'll get that across."

She wished Noel well.

"Thanks for the service," was her parting message to him. "He'll land on his feet somewhere."

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 2:18 PM CST: Added photo

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