Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets just wanna have fun

Noel preaches need for happy work environment, wants 'Joy in Joyland'

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It is a scene which -- if things go according to Claude Noel's master plan -- will repeat itself over and over again this season.

Yes, there was the Winnipeg Jets' head coach Friday morning, a huge grin dominating his mug, high-fiving some of his charges after they had won a power-play competition during practice. And the man who is always pushing the need for a happy work environment -- he refers to it as having 'Joy in Joyland' -- continued with that theme after the workout when describing his basic approach to the game.

Forget the left-wing lock and neutral-zone trap for a moment and dive into this philosophy:

"There's no doubt, if you talk to any player, regardless of his status -- defensive or offensive player, doesn't matter -- they want to play with the puck," Noel began. "I want to coach with the puck. That's the fun way to play. The other way to play, without it, is work. So, decide how you want to play. Do you want to have fun or do you want to work? I mean, it's a lot less work when you have the puck and you're having fun with it.

"It's pretty simple and that's the way we've been going, that's the way that I teach. I don't tell players specifically what you have to do with the puck... I want to make them responsible. I teach them guidelines and let them make decisions. We want the puck, but we don't want to be silly with the puck.

"But there's no question we want to get out of the 'work zone', which is our 'D' zone in 10-12 seconds if we can. We have to get a stop in order to do that and then get to the fun zone, get there quickly and let's go. Let's have some fun in there."

There has been a whole lot of talk about "systems" -- adapting, adjusting, grasping them -- through the first week of Jets' camp. And little wonder it's been a discussion point: Noel is the third head coach in as many years for this organization, following Craig Ramsay (2010-11) and John Anderson (2008-10).

One coach's commandment is sometimes atop another's taboo list and soaking it all up in a matter of a couple of weeks can be challenging.

"Unfortunately, you'd like more consistency if you could. But it's three years in a row with a new coach and that's the way it is," said veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey. "Hopefully we grow together here as a group with the coaching staff for a long time."

Noel and his staff have been implementing their system bit by bit each day. On Friday they worked on back-checking and tracking, among other things, and have been careful not to overload -- especially with so many bodies still in camp.

"It's little things," Hainsey explained. "How you do small things in 'D' zone coverage, how you do small things in the neutral zone? How you do small things on the breakout? We're really just a week in... We're just scratching the surface of it and you're just not going to have everything in place in a week."

Hainsey and Noel have a connection -- they were together with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007-08 -- and Hainsey was in the AHL when Noel led the Milwaukee Admirals to the Calder Cup.

But when pressed about whether he's got a read on his new boss, Hainsey made a couple of things clear: it's a little early to develop a scouting report on anybody and, two, circumstances -- good and bad -- often reveal character and personality.

"It's been six days and one scrambly exhibition game with a split squad," said Hainsey. "So, a lot is going to happen over 80 games and six months. I'm sure they'll be a little bit of everything.

"I know him. I'm familiar with him. If we win 65 games and stay in first all season I'm sure he'll be in a great mood. If we lose 65 I'm sure he'll be in a bad mood."

Good point, that.

And Hainsey, like the rest of his Jets' teammates, knows which scenario will result in high-fives from the boss and bring more joy to Joyland.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2011 C3

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