Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Balancing act

New Moose coach Claude Noel has to keep the brass happy in two cities

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Claude NOEL will be the new guy in the locker-room next week when Vancouver Canucks training camp begins but he won't be afraid to speak up.

Noel carries vast hockey experience and was highly sought after by Canucks GM Mike Gillis when he was released from his head coaching duties with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this summer.

Gillis wanted Noel to either join his staff in Vancouver as an assistant coach or have him take over the bench in Manitoba with the Moose.

Noel thought for a day or two before indicating he'd like to remain a head coach, bringing him to his current position with the Moose.

The great battle for all Moose coaches is to please the brass in Winnipeg who want to win every night, while at the same time keeping the bosses in Vancouver happy by fulfilling their desire to see young prospects improving.

It's a delicate balance and some have proven more adept than others.

Listening to Noel talk about his hockey philosophy it's easy to see why both the Moose and the Canucks were so quick to sign off on him. He uses words like 'growth' and 'teaching' in the same sentence as 'accountability' and 'performance.' He may be the perfect blend for this job.

"I'm going to Vancouver to watch. To watch everything. I learned this a long time ago; to be a good coach you better open your eyes," said Noel, who was in the trainer's room playing Ping-Pong with a member of his staff early Thursday morning. "I don't miss anything. I watch everything. I watch them at breakfast, who are they sitting with, are they holding a door for a lady, how do they treat each other? Do they say good morning? Do they never say good morning first? I gather information and as much as possible."

Noel will have near daily contact with Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault or assistant GM Lorne Henning in discussions on the progress, strengths and weaknesses of players in the organization.

"My only experience is with Barry Trotz and Ray Shero with Nashville when I was in Milwaukee. I talked to someone daily and I've told Lorne Henning that's what I like and normally do," said Noel. "Because they need to know. I need him to know. The reason I say that is I'm a very patient, methodical and calculating coach. I want them to understand when I'm not happy with a player, that the players knows I'm not happy.

"So in three weeks, he might be sitting out. I'm not saying that now but you need to know I'm unhappy. So in three weeks when I am sitting the guy out, they say, 'well, I don't blame you.' I don't want to have to play catch-up and say 'well, three weeks ago...' They need to know. So when I say, 'I've had enough, we need to reassign this guy,' they can have a couple questions but we can hammer it out. That's the relationship I'd like to have."

For a prospect hoping to make an impression in the Canucks system, Noel is the first and best place to start. A stamp of approval from Noel will go a long way to give a player a leg up.

"I like Alain a lot. I found him to be very personable. The meetings this summer were great. A lot of dialogue and a lot of openness. He invited opinions," said Noel. "He engages everybody. I'm an opinionated guy. I have to control myself a lot of the time. I don't sit well. I'm always bubbling. It's great for me. I get to contribute."

Noel says he's held off on watching a lot of tape from last year's Moose season.

"I want to see the players and make my own assessment," he said. "I haven't dug in that far on the team and the players. I've watched some games and bits of others. Normally I dig in pretty good when I join a new team like this, but I want to see things for myself. I don't want to make up my mind on guys. You might watch and say, 'he can't play,' but a player can change. He can mature over the summer. So I haven't wanted to put anybody in a bad light."

Noel wants his players to learn and grow and expects the same from himself.

"Learning is a beautiful thing. It's wonderful. There's no hockey university. There's no diploma," said Noel. "You have to be self-taught. And the better you are at self-analysis and looking in the mirror, the more you can find."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2010 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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