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Noel must tranform Jets from pushovers into mature pros

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Last season's Winnipeg Jets were incorrigible. Fun to be around at times but also irresponsible and impossible to count on.

Coach Claude Noel, more than anyone, knows this must change.

For the Jets to be anything more than a speed bump barely getting in the way of the NHL's elite, as a team they must grow up.

No more cutesy kids' stuff. It doesn't cut it in the most macho of professional sports leagues where those that win do it from an understanding of self comes last and team comes first.

Winners in the NHL walk, talk and think in a similar fashion at all times. They don't win at home and then tank on the road. They don't treat defensive responsibilities like homework that need not be done.

They understand this is a job that requires full-time commitment on and off the ice.

It is, as Noel puts it, an attitude.

"We don't want to be standing here in April next year going down this same path," said Noel at a post-season wrap with the media. "Things have to change. The first thing for me is we have to be better. Our attitude has to be better. I think we're getting there. That's what I want them to think about over the summer."

Summer, however, turned into fall and then into winter without Noel having his hands on the Jets. How they handled their time away and what self-development they endeavoured to undertake is unknown. So too, is the effect Noel will be able to have on his troops in short order. He's going to need to reach them and reach them fast or April will come with the same feeling of underachievement.

Late last season after the Jets had been eliminated from playoff contention, Noel declared in a moment of clarity and unfettered honesty that he knew what must change about his team.

"We have to learn not to play just to play but to play to win," said Noel, his blue lasers for eyes almost smoking with the heat of anger and disappointment. "It's all about attitude. We have to change the attitude."

The comment was made to a reporter in a quiet moment away from the throb of last year's rockstar pace. Noel was about to begin his process of decompression, looking back and taking stock.

But he already knew what had to be done.

Now, robbed of communication with his players for more than four months, no meaningful training camp and limited practise time as result of the lockout, the second-year coach of the Jets must attempt to still make his mark. It won't be easy.

Noel must be spinning right now. No schedule, no chance to talk to his captain Andrew Ladd. No barometer on how Dustin Byfuglien has fared the lockout or what state of mind his goalie Ondrej Pavelec will arrive in after an off-season that included a charge and conviction for drunk driving.

The coach has some talking to do and some bridge-building.

It's really quite simple for the Jets. They will either mature as a team and learn to play like hardened professionals or they will continue their existence as an easy opponent. One version makes the post-season. The other does not.

Noel was patient last season, learning what he had on his roster in terms of players and men. Now he's armed with the knowledge of who will ease off the throttle if allowed and who will continue to drive no matter the circumstances.

 

"It's just the way that we think and we play," said Noel. "It's the mentality and that's really what has to take hold next year, right from training camp, and it will because it will be mapped out and I will be pushing harder and expecting more."

Sorry coach, those plans are likely toast. But the task hasn't changed. Noel needs to get his foot on the collective throat of this team and then push, push and push some more.

The Jets have some talent but they can't afford to be a good story at home and a nightmare on the road. They need to develop -- a consistent identity. In short, it's time for them to put on their big boy pants.

"The bar has got to go up and we have to raise it," said Noel. "I was real patient (last) year, which was real good for me and I think it was good for the team. I'll be less patient next year."

So too, will be the folks in the stands.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2013 C1

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 11:29 AM CST: removes deck

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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