Texas has rarely been considered as a hockey hotbed, but times have changed and the Plano native has credited much of his early success to the pro-rank Dallas Stars.
"When [the Stars] moved down there in '93, everything changed. Hockey got big overnight," Noesen said.
And it continues to grow. With nearly 20 years since the Stars relocated from Minnesota, Noesen sees an even greater desire to grow the game in the Lone Star State.
"The sport is thriving, and the determination to grow hockey in Texas is one of a kind. You see more guys making it to the OHL and WHL nowadays. Even the USHL is growing. The programs here are excellent and I'm very happy to see the progress."
While Noesen has now established his name as one of the OHL's top performers, his maturity was questioned following a season where his numbers dipped before arriving in Plymouth.
Not surprisingly, Dallas provided another opportunity for the 6'1", 193-pound winger to refocus and place his promising career back on track. After connecting with Stars trainer JJ McQueen through a friend, Noesen was invited to join a summer training program.
"I think maturity was a big factor [in my improvement]," he explained. "Working with the Stars helped me, and working on my skating was a big priority. It's something I needed to work on coming into this year and with that improving, it helped me be ready for the next level.
"Just seeing those guys work hard, day-in and day-out and showing where I needed to be helped so much," he added. "I'm a much stronger person and a better player today because of their help. It was an amazing experience."
Noesen added that future Hall-of-Famer Mike Modano has not only been an excellent mentor for US hockey in Texas, but also on a more personal level as well. Growing up watching the ex-Star provided a superb role model for the 18-year-old scorer.
"Modano was my idol," Noesen said. "He was a local guy who did so much for the community, helping Dallas and the Texas area grow the game. Guys like that are true ambassadors for the game and we were lucky to have him here.
"And he was really good!"
Although the Stars were heavily involved in Stefan's development, sport-lines run deep with the Noesen family. While hockey seemed like a strange option, his parents were completely supportive of the ultimate career choice.
"My parents both played basketball growing up," Noesen said. "My dad played in college, so he wanted me to play basketball, but he also wanted me to follow what I love. Once he realized that I was getting to the point where I could do something with my career in hockey, he was a big supporter."
Whether it was family, friends or even coaches providing the encouragement, Noesen has had an incredible course of support throughout his young career. That extends well back to his time in minor hockey when the game was played purely for recreation.
"My coach back in the day, Carson Cable, really helped me out at a young age. We started weight training and he basically taught me all the skills I needed to get to the next level.
"It was funny because we started doing those things when I was really young; probably when I was seven or eight years old," Noesen laughed.
Following the program, Noesen responded well with his new club. Plymouth's newest rookie recorded only eight points in 33 games, but his sophomore campaign in 2010-11 saw a dramatic increase in scoring across the table. In 68 games, Noesen amassed 34 goals and 77 points to lead the Whalers in scoring.
He capped an enormous year with an additional 11 points in the post-season.
"It was a great season. We had a great group of guys. We went pretty far and probably could have made it further, but got pretty worn out near the end," Noesen explained. "It was a good experience to get that post-season action and I think we can build on that for next year."
Planning for next season is Noesen's summer strategy, too. With feedback coming his way, the dynamic winger is driven toward improving a number of valued NHL attributes.
"Overall strength," Noesen deadpanned. "That's one of the main things I've got to work on. My skating continues to get better and better each year, so I think next season it will be very good; maybe not NHL-level yet, but I think within the next few years it will be.
"I'm a big power-forward and I love to bang bodies down low. I can make the nice play and use my vision to create plays, but I'm usually scoring goals and creating opportunities because of hard work. I think my vision is an underrated asset and I hope NHL teams see that."
While the clubs will make that call in late June, NHL Central Scouting has seen his rise in play. CSS's midterm ranking slotted Noesen in the No. 45 spot, but his final ranking soared to No. 35 among North American skaters. The rise is well earned and certainly a feather in Noesen's cap, but as the humble Whaler explains, he's decidedly unconcerned with others' opinions.
"As a hockey player, you always try to be better than the next guy. That's a given. I look at [the rankings], but in talking with my agent Eddie Ward, he basically said that doesn't mean anything. It's just what some people think. You only need one team to like you and they can take you just as high."
Looking ahead, the rankings will soon be irrelevant and the selections will play out for real. Noesen is understandably anxious about the weekend in St. Paul, but says the process will be worth the wait.
"This is what we've been playing for and dreaming about. It's getting to the point where I'm getting anxious and want to know what will happen. It's happening so fast, but feels so slow at the same time. I'm obviously very excited."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com