Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

THE CONTENDER: Claude Noel

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IN precisely one year, Manitoba Moose coach Claude Noel has moved around to the other side of the fence.

Last spring, he was told he would not continue with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, the organization that had temporarily promoted him to be the man in charge behind the bench when it fired Ken Hitchcock with 24 games to go.

Noel, now 55, guided the Jackets to a 10-8-6 mark down the stretch but it still wasn't good enough to qualify the expansion franchise for the playoffs, a second season reached only once previously by the organization.

Columbus could move no higher than 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams, it was so far behind when Hitchcock was let go.

Noel, Hitchcock's assistant, thought he was well-positioned to be the head coach going forward. He figured that his inside knowledge of the team's personnel gave him a distinct advantage for the future, but Jackets GM Scott Howson and Columbus management determined that a fresh start with former Moose coach Scott Arniel was a better play.

Noel was out of work no more than a week before the Moose and GM Craig Heisinger acted and with a strong endorsement from the Vancouver Canucks' management, it turned out to be a trade -- Noel for Arniel.

In charge of the Moose for 2010-11, Noel was confident from the beginning but never presumptuous. He insisted that his team reveal itself, rather than having a style and identity rammed down the players' throats.

All kinds of circumstances of injuries and call-ups plagued the Moose from November to April. And the sense of anticipation from players and fans persisted through the season -- when was Noel, the man with the extensive background, a dynamic philosophy and more than his share of success at the AHL level, going to bring out the best in the Moose?

The answer turned out to be later than most expected, but the club, despite its glaring holes, banded together and played admirably in the playoffs, rallying from 3-1 down to win the first round and rallying from 3-2 down in the second round only to lose in triple overtime of Game 7.

That body of work certainly helped Noel's resumé, and even though his NHL experience and success is limited and not best-in-category in the current derby, it makes him a favourable candidate for True North.

This time, however, Noel will be perceived as the agent of change if the new NHL franchise wishes to have a "fresh" start and is to have a new head coach.

-- Tim Campbell

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2011 C2

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