August 05, 2015

Claude Noel

Claude Noel has become a popular NHL coach, if only for his witty post-game interviews. He always has something witty and sharp to say, making every highlight package a must watch.

But did you know Claude Noel once played in the National Hockey League?

It wasn't for long. In the 1979-80 season Noel played seven games for the lowly Washington Capitals. The Caps only won 27 of 80 games that year, finishing 17th out of 21 teams.

Noel, who oddly enough was born on Halloween 1955, was light-weight center. Some sources have the five-foot-eleven pivot weighing in as low as 165 pounds.

Noel grew up near the hockey factory known as Kirkland Lake, Ontario, where his father, like so many men in town, worked in the mine. When he wasn't playing on the natural ice of the Virginiatown rink or under the lamp post on the street outside the family home, he was dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League.

When Claude was 14 the family moved to North Bay, and soon enough Claude was playing with local Trappers junior team.

In 1974-75 he played one season with the Kitchener Rangers before signing a pro contract with the Buffalo Norsemen of the long forgotten North American Hockey League. It would not be the last time hockey would take him to a team that very few people remember.

The fleet skater left Buffalo and found a good home with the AHL Hershey Bears from 1976 through 1981. He repeatedly put up strong offensive numbers, earning him his chance with the Washington Capitals. He also helped the Bears win the AHL Calder Cup championship in 1980.

Yet his dream of playing in the NHL kept getting further away. He would spend a year in Switzerland and another in Austria. He lit up the IHL with teams like the Toledo Goaldiggers and Kalamazoo Wings before finishing his playing with the Milwaukee Admirals in 1988.

Soon after retiring he stepped behind the bench. His first big break was catching on as an assistant coach with legendary junior coach Bert Templeton with the North Bay Centennials. He still credits much of his coaching philosophy to Templeton.

Much like his playing career, his coaching career has taken him far and wide. But it also brought him to the National Hockey League, at long last. He spent four years as an assistant and then interim coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and three seasons with the Winnipeg Jets.

“It’s way different playing than it is being a coach. . . You have a way different feel for what’s actually going on on the ice than you do when you’re behind the bench," Noel summarized.

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