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Fans OK with letting Noel go

Good man, but Jets needed jolt, they say

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Rob Gibson, with son Ethan: firing 'a shocker'

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

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

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

Noel will be replaced by Paul Maurice, who has more than 1,100 NHL games under his belt as a coach with the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maurice has agreed to terms with the team through this season, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Sunday.

"Fresh changes, fresh look, new systems" are what Ackerman said she hopes Maurice, 46, will bring to the Jets, a team in the midst of a five-game losing streak. "(It will) maybe shake up the emotional status of the team," she said.

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

"Winnipeg is a hockey town, so there's a lot of expectations," said Rob Gibson, with 11-year-old son, Ethan, as they absorbed news of Noel's dismissal at the Iceplex for a Jets practice that was ultimately cancelled.

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

It was hoped that by Year 3, the new incarnation of the Jets would be playoff contenders, Gibson said. The team's quickly vanishing post-season prospects led to Noel's firing -- "that's what it boils down to," he said.

"There definitely had to be a shakeup 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 save their season.

"If (Maurice) can get players onto his system, they've got nowhere to go but forward," Hainsworth 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 message to him. "He'll land on his feet somewhere."

News of Noel's firing lit up social-media networks, with many commenters saying it was needed.

Sports-industry figures had only good things to say about Noel.

"All spoke of Claude Noel as a good man. He was very likable and entertaining. Wishing him the very best," tweeted former Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Troy Westwood.

"Noel was never able to establish an identity for the Jets. This will be an aspect of the team Maurice will look to impact quickly," he said.

"Sorry to hear about the Jets firing Claude Noel," former Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice tweeted.

"Good man, and it's not always the coaches' fault," he said.

LaPolice was fired as coach of the Bombers in 2012 after leading the team in a losing Grey Cup appearance in 2011.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2014 A4

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