MINNEAPOLIS – One thing that never left Claude Noel was the belief he was good enough to coach in the NHL.
The unshakable confidence took him from Toledo to Manitoba—and several stops in between over two decades—and finally manifested itself in the opportunity of a lifetime as the first head coach of Winnipeg’s new NHL team.
“When I got the news I was extremely excited,” Noel said Friday. “There was a lot of emotion. You know, I’ve gone through this process a few times and I’m a little older and I thought, ‘Jeez, I hope my day’s coming.’
“I thought my day would come and I can’t tell you how happy I am.”
The 55-year-old briefly coached the Columbus Blue Jackets on an interim basis after Ken Hitchcock was fired in February 2010, but didn’t end up keeping the post once the season ended. He became head coach of the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose last year.
“When I didn’t get the job in Columbus, there was disappointment like anybody would be,” said Noel. “I just sort of held on to my own inner confidence and thought `my day will come, I’ve just to got to continue to try to do a good job and try to do some good work.”‘
His hiring brought an end to a coaching search that lasted two or three weeks and had the potential to be a bit awkward for the Winnipeg front office.
Noel was chosen over Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, who has worked with Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in the past. Noel and assistant GM Craig Heisinger spent last year together with the Moose.
“(Haviland) was a qualified candidate,” said Cheveldayoff. “I know him personally after obviously winning a Stanley Cup championship with him. But in this situation here, you have to take personal relationships out of it. He was very professional, he was extremely thankful for the opportunity.
“Again, when Zinger and I sat down and went to the final conclusion, we said ‘we don’t think we can make a bad choice here.’ We just think that this is the right choice for moving forward.”
Noel has coached in the AHL, ECHL and IHL and experienced plenty of success along the way.
He already has a few potential candidates in mind for assistants and hopes to lock them up quickly. They’ll need to get right down to work on preparations for a team that has missed the playoffs the last four seasons.
“I think it’s really important that you make sure you get people that are loyal and you can trust,” Noel said of his assistants. “Because we are going to have to dig in as a staff, there is no question that we’re going have some areas we’re going to have to dig in. We’re going to have to find some solutions.”
Even when talking about some of the challenges that lie ahead, there was no taking the smile off Noel’s face.
He was out shopping with his family when Cheveldayoff called with the good news on Wednesday night and couldn’t help but reflect on the journey that got him here after the news became official.
“I can’t wait to get started,” said Noel.