Claude Noel has a simple goal when he steps behind the Columbus Blue Jackets bench at Nationwide Arena – get his players to perform better. At the moment, there is no one better equipped to accomplish that challenge than Noel, a Jackets' assistant since 2007, who was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2009-10 season yesterday.
At the end of the day, you want to be proud of the way you play." - Interim Head Coach Claude Noel
The good-natured Noel knows these players and he will utilize a new voice to improve both the culture and the results.
"We're all searching for the same thing – I'm trying to get players 'A' games," Noel said at Thursday's press conference following the removal of Ken Hitchcock.
"I have confidence in my abilities to coach. I’m just hopeful that the players are going to listen and pay attention and get things done."
The 54-year-old native of Kirkland Lake, Ontario brings a wealth of experience to the assignment. In addition to his inside knowledge of the Columbus dressing room and its players, he has tasted success at every level he's coached. Noel began his bench career in 1990 with the Roanoke Valley Rebels and has won Coach of the Year honors in both the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League, the latter award coming in the 2003-04 season when his Milwaukee Admirals captured the Calder Cup.
He acknowledged that he is ready for the challenge of being an NHL head coach.
"I'm very thankful that I have the experience I have," Noel said. "I think I'm way more prepared.
"I know one thing – less is going to be more for me."
Noel said he wasn't about to reinvent the game and simplicity might be just what the struggling Jackets need to change their fortunes in the last third of the season, beginning with a lengthy home stretch at Nationwide Arena prior to the Olympic break.
Last season's playoff team is a distant memory and Noel will be asked to get more out of a talented but young lineup. He will attempt to do that by playing to his own strengths – being fair, demanding and honest as he changes the delivery of the message.
"I'm a patient person and I have a really good sense of body language and how players respond to what I'm saying to them," said Noel.
Replacing a fired colleague wasn't the way that Noel wanted his first taste at coaching in the NHL but he's prepared regardless of the circumstances. He called Hitchcock a friend and a "really good man." Hitchcock and GM Scott Howson gave Noel the chance to join the staff back in 2007 and the experience has been a great one.
"This not what I had in mind, really," the interim coach said. "You never go into a situation as an assistant and hope your job is going to be at the expense of someone else. You don't even want to think about it.
"Having said that, this the opportunity that's in front of me now. I really embrace the opportunity and there are a lot of things here that I really like about this team."
Noel said he believes the Jackets have what it takes to win hockey games. It starts with every player taking responsibility and putting in the effort. That's what got the Jackets to the post-season last year and it's the only way they can rebound and earn back some respect.
"At the end of the day, you want to be proud of the way you play," said Noel. "We'll be proud of the way we play and the way we work."