ST. PAUL -- No matter how hard he hoped or wished, prayed or dreamed, Claude Noel didn't know if the telephone call he's been awaiting for years would ever come.
And when it did, well, the news almost buckled his knees. As the Free Press first reported Thursday, Noel is the Winnipeg Jets' first head coach.
Rewind to Wednesday when Noel and his wife Lynda were ambling through the produce section of their local grocery store in Winnipeg when the telephone rang. On the other end: Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff with an offer to be the franchise's first head coach.
Not that Cheveldayoff offered that nugget right away...
"I was shopping at Superstore with my wife and son," Noel explained Friday at a press conference in downtown Minneapolis. "I leaned over a can of tomatoes and it took about a minute before they decided to tell me I had it or not. I would have just rather him say, 'You got the job,' but he didn't, and I went through a living hell for a minute.
"I had daggers flying everywhere. My heart was jumping. There were a lot of emotions. I was really appreciative. Almost tears of appreciation for me. I've gone through this process a few times and I'm a little older (55) and I thought, I hope my day is coming. I thought my day would come."
Cheveldayoff got a kick out of making the call, from start to finish. "I've had to make a lot of phone calls over the course of time here that have been difficult to make," he said. "That one was very easy to make, a pleasure."
Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger went through a thorough process before selecting Noel, interviewing Chicago Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland -- the other finalist -- as well as former Atlanta Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay and ex-Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. Noel won not just because of his familiarity with Heisinger and those in the Manitoba Moose organization but, quite simply, because they felt he was the best man for the gig.
In fact, several times during Friday's media gathering both Cheveldayoff and Heisinger referred to Noel as "the right fit."
"Neither one of us went into the process with any preconceived notions on anybody," Heisinger said. "We liked all four candidates or wouldn't have spoken to them. The guy that we believed in was going to get the job and Claude interviewed well.
"At the end of the day, it was both our calls, but Kevin's the GM and he's the one that had to be extremely comfortable, and he was. It was clear as day to me that Claude earned the position on his own value. This was never a case of my guy or Chevy's guy."
An amiable coach who stressed Friday he wanted to create a "fun" working environment for his players, Noel isn't afraid to bring the hammer down when the time calls for it. He is a solid tactician who, most in hockey believe, squeezes the absolute maximum out of his charges.
"It's the way his teams competed every night," said Cheveldayoff. "I've watched his teams win championships, watched him take them to the finals. I've watched him take very talented teams places and I've watched him take teams with not an overabundance of talent and make them better and get to places they probably shouldn't have.
"He's pleasant to compete against all the time. Respectful of the game. And those are qualities that make Claude, Claude.
"I'm convinced in my mind he's a leader."
Noel was flown into Minnesota Tuesday night for a second interview before management became convinced he would be their first head coach. And with that, a man who has spent the better part of the last 19 years behind benches in Toledo and Roanoke, Dayton and Kalamazoo, Milwaukee and Columbus, had landed his dream job.
"I'm a communicator and a teacher and really enjoy building relationships with players and that's not going to change," said Noel, who hopes to have his assistant coaches in place by mid-July. "Communication is the key. You have to know what the differences are. Make sure you're on top of things.
"I can't wait to get started."