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This Texan's heart always belonged to hockey

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
While football is king in Texas, it didn't catch the attention of Senators prospect Stefan Noesen, who began playing hockey at three years old and hasn't stopped since then (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images).

The lure of 'Friday Night Lights' has reeled in many a young Texas lad over the years.

But Stefan Noesen clearly doesn't fit that Lone Star State stereotype. So while he knows full well about the near-religion that is high school football in Texas, the 18-year-old from the Dallas suburb of Plano always remained true to the sport that long ago captured his heart.

"As you grow up, you always go to football games," said Noesen, a first-round pick by the Senators (21st overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. "It’s fun to do on weekends and all your friends go because all your friends like football — nobody really follows hockey. Of course, that was a part of my life, but it was nothing that really caught my eye."

Sure, Noesen admits he's a supporter of the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys. He was a Texas Longhorns fan when Vince Young — now a quarterback with the NFL's Tennessee Titans — guided the Steers to the national title in U.S. college football a few years back, although he's "more of a Texas Tech guy now."

All that being said, Noesen has been a hockey guy since he first swung a stick at a puck at three years old. And his stars growing up were of the National Hockey League variety — as in, the Dallas Stars, the team he credits with inspiring much of his upbringing in the sport.

"They had a bunch of guys like Mike Modano and Brett Hull who started organizations down there, little kid clubs so everyone could go to the games," said Noesen, who trains in the off-season with a group that includes current Stars captain Brenden Morrow.

But while his hockey roots are in Texas, the 6-0, 195-pound Noesen knew soon enough that his puck ambitions had outgrown his home state. So at 14, he made the man-sized decision to head north to Michigan, where he enrolled in the famed Detroit Compuware minor hockey program.

"It was tough, but it was bearable because it was something I wanted to do," he said. "Basically, it was my decision to move there. It wasn’t anyone else’s. I told my parents (Glen and Jamie) ‘listen, I’m leaving. If you want to come, you’re more than welcome to.’ They came with me and stayed for two years, then my parents left and I stayed there by myself.

"It was a big change for me, going to a new school and trying to get new friends and trying to adapt to a new lifestyle, in a sense, in terms of living up north."

But given where he is today — a first-round NHL draft pick with a bright future in Ottawa — Noesen knows it was the move he had to make to grow his hockey future. He spent the last two seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers, racking up 34 goals and 77 points in a 2010-11 campaign that boosted his draft status.

"It was huge," he said of his move to Michigan. "In the Dallas area, they’re starting to get it right and they’re starting to produce more players. This year alone, with had three guys from Dallas, born and raised (there), get drafted and go somewhere in hockey. So it’s starting to get bigger, but moving away was probably the biggest thing and the best thing I could ever do."

Now he's drawing comparisons to Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, who led the NHL with 50 goals last season and won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. It's a thought that brings a knowing smile to the face of Senators general manager Bryan Murray, who drafted Perry in 2003 when he held the same position with the Ducks.

"(Noesen) has that kind of characteristic," said Murray. "He’s a hard-working, real competitive guy, goes to the net hard and battles very hard. So when you have that kind of player with size and ability to get up and down the ice ... he’s a guy that fits in very nicely (in Ottawa)."

The Whalers were Noesen's preferred OHL destination because "I was comfortable (in Michigan) and I didn’t really feel like moving to a Canadian city at the time." But he's more than content with the idea of starting his NHL career in the capital of a hockey-mad nation.

"I can get used to it," he said with a smile. "I’m not going to complain. Ottawa’s a great city. We come up here once a year with the Whalers to play the 67’s. It’s a good town to start in. I feel like Ottawa is the right place for me. (Hockey) is a lot bigger here than it is in Texas, that’s for sure."

But Noesen is doing his part to educate the good folks of his home state about the game his loves. Already, he says, Senators colours are starting to make their presence known in Texas, with a number of friends and relatives sporting red Ottawa T-shirts with his name on the back.

"I’ve already got about 30 people that have bought shirts," said Noesen. "I have a grad party at the end of the month and they all said they’re going to be wearing their shirts. I’m starting to get a little bit more of a crowd down there."

Meaning there's a reason for all of them to pay more attention to Saturday nights, too.

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