Claude Noel's Manitoba Moose are off to a 2-0 start to the season. (Photo courtesy the Manitoba Moose)
If Guy Boucher is the exciting new coaching story in NHL circles, then Claude Noel ranks amongst the most interesting of new American League coaching hires.
Boucher still remains something of a curiosity to many in the NHL, but Noel's work is familiar to AHL observers.
The new coach of the Manitoba Moose returns to the AHL after a three-season stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets in which he made his NHL head coaching debut last season after taking over for the departed Ken Hitchcock. Noel's 10-8-6 mark piloting Columbus was not enough for the Blue Jackets to retain the soon-to-be 55-year-old native of Kirkland Lake, Ont., and the veteran bench boss was back on the crowded coaching market.
Boucher and Noel share an interesting case of worlds crossing. After Noel left the Blue Jackets, the Columbus coaching job was offered to Boucher. When Boucher turned down the offer, the Blue Jackets chose former Manitoba coach Scott Arniel to fill the role.
Arniel's departure from the Moose created an opening for one of the AHL's most coveted coaching jobs. The Moose named Noel their new coach just 13 days after Arniel left for Columbus, bringing Noel back to his successful AHL roots.
Noel spent four seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals before his Columbus stint and helped engineer a successful pipeline that delivered talent to the parent Nashville Predators.
Noel also mixed winning with development, a balance that can be difficult to maintain in the AHL, where the clash between the two stands as a dominant theme across much of the league.
Milwaukee produced and refined the likes of Dan Hamhuis, Pekka Rinne, Scottie Upshall, Greg Zanon, Vernon Fiddler and Jordin Tootoo during Noel's reign with the Admirals. But Noel's squad also captured the 2004 Calder Cup during his first season as head coach, one in which he was also honored as the league’s best bench boss. Milwaukee returned to the league final in 2006, but lost to the Hershey Bears.
So far, with a Manitoba roster that competes favorably with any in the AHL, Noel has the winning touch – the Moose swept a two-game Midwest swing last weekend. A tough Western Conference and long road trips will serve as obstacles to putting out a winning product this season.
But now the Vancouver Canucks are depending on Noel's touch to help bring along the likes of Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, Kevin Connauton and Sergei Shirokov, among other prospects. For those players and the rest of the Moose roster, Noel’s addition to the Vancouver organization signals a new start with a coach who will have a fresh perspective.
The Moose and Canucks also stocked up on organizational depth this past summer, providing Noel with veteran AHL goaltender Tyler Weiman, center Joel Perrault and likely sniper Jeff Tambellini to go with Moose mainstay Nolan Baumgartner who firms up the club's blueline.
Noel made an immediate impression with the omnipresent Winnipeg media corps on his first day of training camp. Although working with mostly a collection of training-camp invites, Noel ran an intense, demanding practice session.
But now Noel has what will more or less be his roster for the season. Whether or not that translates into Winnipeg's first hockey championship since the 1979 AVCO World Trophy, Canucks management can feel confident the likes of Hodgson, Schroeder and Shirokov will be getting a top-notch hockey education this winter.
THIS AND THAT: The AHL continues to be a young man's league. Based on opening night rosters, the average AHLer clocks in at 24 years, three months old. More than 66 percent of the league's playing personnel is less than 25 years old and 56.6 percent of the players are Canadian...
• The AHL's 75th season started off well at the box office. Grand Rapids (10,834), Lake Erie (12,524), Providence (10,461) and the new Oklahoma City entry (9,918) all reeled in big opening night crowds, among other clubs. The first-year Charlotte Checkers make their home debut Friday night...
• The AHL and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association announced a new four-year collective bargaining agreement last Friday Oct. 8 that will take the two sides through the 2013-14 season...
• The first of 10 AHL broadcasts on CBC debuts Sunday Oct. 17 when the Toronto Marlies host the Binghamton Senators. Viewers in the United States can see the CBC broadcast via the NHL Network.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.