Admirals' Noel takes NHL job
After four years of unequaled success with the Milwaukee Admirals, head coach Claude Noel is moving on.
Noel, who led the Admirals to their only professional championship, accepted an assistant coaching position with the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League on Thursday.
The 51-year-old spent eight of the last nine seasons on the Milwaukee bench, including a stint as an assistant to former head coaches Al Sims and Dave Allison from 1998-2002.
"I'm happy I'm going," Noel said by phone Thursday afternoon. "But it's kind of a double-edged sword. It's a little emotional, because I've had a lot of good times here in Milwaukee."
Columbus, which has completely restructured its hockey operations, moved quickly to bring Noel into the fold. He was in Nashville on Tuesday to meet with General Manager David Poile of the Predators' when Columbus GM Scott Hownson called to get permission to interview Noel.
"Things happened pretty fast, it all went down over a couple of days," Noel said. "I knew they had an interest but I didn't know it would happen so quickly."
With the Blue Jackets, Noel will be reunited with their new head coach Ken Hitchcock, who was hired last November. Noel served on Hitchcock's staff with Kalamazoo of the International Hockey League from 1993-'95.
"It's going to be great to work with Ken again," Noel said. "I'm excited to see how both of us have changed and how we've grown. We know each other very well and have a good relationship. It's going to be fun."
After for years of being the decision-maker, Noel is excited to adjust to a new, but familiar role as an assistant. He enjoyed being the go-to guy for four years, but is also looking forward to new challenges.
"You're able to think more freely," Noel said. "When you're a head coach, you're immersed in everything. You go to the rink with two goals; to put out fires and to find solutions. As an assistant, you don't have as many of those things coming at you. This will be a good change for me."
The Admirals took off after Noel was hired as head coach. The Admirals lead the American Hockey League with 46 victories and 102 points and coasted to the Calder Cup Championship; earning Coach of the Year honors along the way. That team set a franchise record for fewest losses (21) and won the second-most games in team history with 49.
During his tenure as head coach, the Admirals posted the second-best overall record in the AHL (183-94-22-21), the second-most points in the league, and became just the fourth team in league history to post 100 points in three consecutive seasons.
None of that will mean as much to Noel, though, as the moment his players hoisted the Calder Cup.
"That was a real highlight, for sure," Noel said. "To come back to Milwaukee as a head coach then winning the cup was such a thrill," Noel said. "It was good to do that for the organization and the city, and one of the thoughts is that (former longtime Admirals' General Manager) Phil Witliff was able to see it before he retired, that was dear to my heart."
He was fortunate to have worked with some of the game's best young talent. Parent-club Nashville had one the NHL's best records this past season, thanks in large part to a number of players who worked with Noel in Milwaukee.
Noel also was on board when the franchise's ownership changed hands. It had been operated by a trust after the passing of owner Jane Bradley Pettit. A group led by Harris Turer bought the franchise in 2005, ensuring the future of hockey in Milwaukee. Noel says he is proud of what he was a part of in Milwaukee, and will miss his relationship with the fans the most.
"They were just great to me," Noel said. "I got to know a lot of them, talking to them and seeing them all the time at functions or just around town. We had a good relationship with mutual respect."
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