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August 23, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Brian Noonan

Born in Boston, Brian Noonan took an unconventional route to the NHL for an American kid. He opted for the Western Hockey League over college hockey. He joined the New Westminster Bruins in 1984-85 after two years of high school hockey. He stepped right into the WHL and scored 50 goals and 116 points, not looking one bit out of place.

Noonan was drafted a couple of years earlier, picked 179th overall by Chicago in 1983. Noonan struggled to play in the NHL for several years. Despite impressive numbers in the minors, it wasn't until 1991-92 that Noonan finally established himself as an NHLer.

One of the main reasons for his arrival in the NHL was coach Mike Keenan. Iron Mike was known for having a few favorite players. Noonan - like fellow utility players Stephane Matteau, Greg Gilbert, and Peter Zezel to name a few - would ultimately follow Keenan around the league.

When Keenan departed from Chicago, it wasn't long before Noonan was gone too. The Hawks traded Noonan and Stephane Matteau to the Rangers for Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates on March 21, 1994. It was good timing for the two former Hawks, as they joined the Rangers just in time for their playoff journey that ultimately ended with the Stanley Cup. Noonan played very well in those playoffs, and even assisted on Mark Messier's Stanley Cup-clinching goal that season.

Keenan left the Rangers to take a job as GM/coach of the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 1994. A year later Keenan acquired his old buddy Noonan. Noonan would play parts of 2 seasons in St. Louis before being sent back to New York and then on to Vancouver.

Noonan was probably one of the few happy Canucks players to learn that Keenan was hired as coach in Vancouver shortly after his arrival. Keenan's reign was short however, and ultimately so was Noonan's.

The Canucks did not renew Noonan's contract, and allowed him to become a unrestricted free agent. However there was little interest in the aging right winger. He ended up logging 65 games with the IHL's Indianapolis Ice before signing with the Phoenix Coyotes for the final seven games plus the playoffs in 1999.

"I was Phoenix's insurance plan for the playoffs, in case someone got hurt," Noonan said. "Fortunately for me, some guys did. Otherwise, I would have sat out the last couple months of the season."

After being released by Phoenix, Noonan returned to Chicago, but not the NHL. He joined the IHL's Chicago Wolves.

"I still wanted to play, and I knew not much would happen in the NHL," Noonan said. "This was the perfect opportunity for me."

Brian will probably be best remember as a hard nosed player who threw his weight around. He was most effective when he was forechecking tenaciously. Though no speedster, he had incredible skating strength and balance, making him near impossible to knock down. He excelled in the corners, often winning battles for pucks or at least drawing a penalty. He kept his game simple, finishing his checks and crashing the crease. He was reliable defensively and surprisingly crafty if observed over a period of time.

Brian Noonan was a scorer at every level except the NHL, though he did show streaks of brilliance at times. One of those times was just after Christmas in 1991. Noonan exploded, scoring 3 goals against Winnipeg and 4 goals 2 days later against Detroit! He became the first Hawk to record consecutive hat tricks since Stan Mikita in 1965-66.

Despite Noonan's great play, his true colors were shining through in his comments about the games.

"What I remember most is that we didn't win either game," Noonan said. "We tied the first and lost the second. Throughout my career, I was a streaky scorer. I just didn't streak as much as I wanted to."

Noonan remained in the Chicago area following retirement. He stays active in hockey by coaching youth hockey.

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