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Noel heads to Winnipeg to take the road back to NHL

by Lindsay Kramer
Claude Noel has a fervor for coaching that comes through half a continent away.

''I'm a passionate, energetic coach,'' he said at the end of a long day earlier this week. ''The best way to utilize my strengths is to be a head coach.''

He couldn't have found an AHL city that better matches that energy and responds in kind.

Noel is seemingly back where he belongs. Not necessarily in the AHL, but as a man running a team again and in the quasi-NHL locale of Winnipeg. Noel was named head coach of the Manitoba Moose on June 21, ending a quick but logical pursuit in which the Vancouver Canucks targeted Noel for its top affiliate and reeled him in.

''They really showed they wanted to bring me into their organization. They made me feel good about things,'' said Noel, 54. ''I know the expectation level is high here. The fact you now belong inside this climate is a good thing.''

Noel's entry into the Moose's terrain is a result of an unusual flip-flop. Manitoba coach Scott Arniel was hired as the head coach of Columbus. Noel had been the interim head coach of the Blue Jackets, and when he didn't get the NHL position full-time, Manitoba didn't need a headhunter to pick Noel as the best candidate available.

Noel's four seasons coaching AHL Milwaukee prior to his Blue Jackets stint further highlighted the obvious. During that time, he led the club the Admirals to a 183-94-12-31 regular-season record, three 100-point seasons and two West Division titles. He also won a Calder Cup title in 2003-04.

Based on Noel's subsequent experience in the NHL, that might have been just a warm-up in terms of AHL success.

''I think I got a really good understanding of what it takes to play in the NHL, what it takes to get there,'' Noel said of his stay in Columbus. ''The other thing is you get a chance to watch a lot of NHL teams, how they play. You are constantly learning.''

Noel doesn't see that changing in Manitoba, which despite its NHL-like feel and fan support, is still found in the AHL standings.

''If I have aspirations to be an NHL head coach, which I do, this would be a good training ground for me,'' he said. ''I don't see it as a step down. What's important for me is to get back to the needs I have as a person and a head coach. What happens after that, those things will look after themselves.''

Yeo returns to his roots -- Mike Yeo scored his first pro goal in Minnesota, as a member of the Houston Aeros playing against the Manitoba Moose, when both teams were part of the International Hockey League.

As a player he wore No. 8, and last week he was hired as the eighth head coach in Houston's franchise history.

Yeo's not exactly pushing the notion that he was destined to take over the Aeros, but he also appreciates the weight of little coincidences.

''There were all these things that were pointing me in this direction,'' he said. ''It just makes sense to me.''

A lot of people feel that way, most notably the parent Minnesota Wild. Sometimes, it works out that things are more than fluky. Like winning.

Yeo, 36, comes to Houston after five seasons as an assistant with Pittsburgh. With Yeo's help, the Penguins won a Stanley Cup and reached another Final.

Before that, Yeo passed six seasons as an assistant in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His tenure there included two trips to the Calder Cup Final. As a player, he was captain of Houston's 1998-99 Turner Cup championship team.

''I've thought about it a lot. I'll be the first to tell you I've been around great people,'' Yeo said. ''I've got a job to do. I'm going to do the best job I can. When all the individuals involved do the best job they can, that's when they have success.''

Yeo's opportunity to run his own team caps a healing process that was a decade in the making. A knee injury at age 26 forced him out of the game. While retirement at such a young age was a brutal blow, it re-focused Yeo on what he always hoped would be his long-term place in the sport.

Even back in his junior career, Yeo said he compiled tips from coaches to use sometime down the road. When Wilkes-Barre/Scranton brought him on as an assistant after his injury, he already had a skating start that's now carried him all the way to the top spot in Houston.

''I'm young. But at the same time, I have 11 years coaching experience. I feel confident going in,'' he said. ''I'm not going to sit here and try to pretend I'm not going to make a mistake. My goal is to go and be as ready as I can, to be a better coach in October than I was in September, and carry that on the rest of the year. It's the same process that I'm going to ask of my team.''

Nachbaur steps down -- The next AHL team looking for a head coach is the Binghamton Senators.

Earlier this week, Don Nachbaur announced his resignation because of personal reasons. Nachbaur was named head coach on July 17, 2009 and in one season behind the bench led Binghamton to a 36-35-6-3 record and 81 points.

"It is a difficult day for me as I step down as the head coach of the Binghamton Senators. This was not an easy decision for me, but it is based on personal reasons and I think it is the right choice for both myself and my family," Nachbaur said in a statement. "I would like to thank the Ottawa Senators, specifically Bryan Murray and Tim Murray, as well as Tom Mitchell and the Binghamton Senators for the opportunity to be part of a terrific organization. I wish them nothing but success in the future."

Nachbaur's departure means the Sens will open camp with their fifth head coach in five seasons. Tom Mitchell, the executive vice president of operations with the B-Sens, told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin he was "shocked" when Nachbaur first mentioned the possibility of resigning.

"He went home, and I think he started looking at things," Mitchell told the paper. "And for family reasons and personal reasons, he got thinking about it, and decided that the best thing for him and his family overall would be for him to stay out there and resign from the job here.

"I'm not convinced that he's doing the right thing for him, but it's his decision. I have a lot of respect for him. I enjoyed working with him. And only time will tell, I guess."

Division alignments for 2010-11 -- The AHL's new 30-team lineup next season, an all-time high for the league, required a little re-designing by the Board of Governors.

The AHL will operate with two 15-team conferences, which remain labeled Eastern and Western. The East's Atlantic Division drops from eight to seven teams, with the loss of Lowell. The East Division bumps up from seven to eight, with the addition of Charlotte.

The Western Conference's North Division remains the same as last season, with seven teams. The addition of Oklahoma City inflates the West Division from seven to eight teams.

The format for the playoffs will be determined by the board at its meeting in July.

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