SUNRISE, Fla. -- As the face and voice of the city's NHL franchise, Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel has become a celebrity in our town this year.
Noel loves to talk hockey and isn't afraid to drift into other subjects when the mood strikes.
He's intelligent, engaging and humorous. He's also likely to be around for a long time, as Jets management is thrilled with his work -- and also, not a fickle bunch. During 15 years of running the Manitoba Moose, the duo of Mark Chipman and Craig Heisinger fired only one coach, Jean Perron, midway through the opening season. They prefer stability and loyalty over quick fixes.
Noel was visibly upset after Saturday's loss to the Tampa Bay Lighting that officially ended his team's chase for a playoff spot, but by Monday in South Florida he was in a more expansive mood.
Noel said he spent Sunday watching his favourite morning news magazine program, working out and then sitting by the pool for a few hours before having dinner with some of his staff.
We caught up to Noel on Monday. Here are some highlights from the conversation.
Has the experience lived up to your expectations?
"My first year in the NHL as a head coach has been everything I expected and more and especially because it's been in Winnipeg. I'm so honoured to be able to coach this team at this time. The passion has been through the roof. I'm thankful for being older. The experience I've had has allowed me to do the job in the right way, and I don't know if I was 42 years old if that would have happened. You can get very wrapped up in the stress and the magnitude of the job. I've been able to have clarity. This isn't a one- or two-year job. It's a process. I'm not just talking about coaching the team, but building the organization."
How do you and your staff work together?
"We discuss a lot in meetings. I have my philosophies. Pascal (Vincent) runs the power play but I oversee it. Charlie (Huddy) works on the penalty kill and Wade (Flaherty) works with the goalies. Tony (Borgford) runs the video and does lots of the pre-scouts. But you're intertwined every day and trying to get the most out of the staff and get the most done. Things will be a lot different next year, not that they weren't well run this year, from my perspective. But this year we were able to set the groundwork for the way we want to play, the attitude we want to convey and the work ethic we want to conduct ourselves with. Of all the things I wanted to get done I would say I got 40 per cent done. I think the other 60 per cent comes with time. If I had of tried to get all 100 per cent in we would have been stuck. I can see after a year the areas that we have to be way more specific. I will say this to the players -- there will be big changes next year on how we operate and the expectations on a daily basis of what I want to get accomplished. I got those things established this year but we're raising the bar. If we want to go somewhere we have work to do."
How do you deal with the players in the dressing room?
"I'm a pretty passionate guy but I've become a little more controlled as I've gotten older. I can't say that I'm overly calm between periods but it depends on how the game is going. I judge whether I think we are underachieving or paying attention or not. Sometimes you have to have emotion to get things across. On the bench I watch the game and am a low-demeanour guy. But there are games in between periods when I walk in right after the players and the gloves are off and it's 'let's go right now. Let's go. I'm not waiting.' You don't coach the same in October as you do in February because there's a handing off process to your players."
How do you deal with the referees?
"I'm not a big referee guy. There's a simple reason for that. You don't get a lot when you disrespect the referees. I learned that in Columbus in my second or third game. The referees are together and when you argue with one you are dealing with all 40 or 50. It takes a long way to get their respect back."
What are your favourite fan moments?
"That month of December where we played Boston and Minnesota, and the win over the Leafs. The passion with all those Leafs jerseys and having a team come in with representation and knowing from talking to people before the game how much they wanted to beat the Leafs... it was a Winnipeg thing and there was real connection with that. I really got a sense the fans were a big part of the team when I got the impression that they wanted to be on the bench and involved in the battle...''
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