Noel, Sea Dogs ready for fin­ish­ing work

Cen­tre from St. John’s a key per­former for QMJHL cham­pi­ons

The Compass - - Sports - BY BRENDAN MCCARTHY

Nathan Noel re­cently headed into what would likely be the last week of his ju­nior ca­reer and he’s de­ter­mined to make the most of it, but not just for him­self.

The 19-year-old from St. John’s is a cen­tre for the Que­bec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League cham­pion Saint John Sea Dogs, who be­gin play in the Me­mo­rial Cup cham­pi­onship Fri­day night in Windsor, Ont.

The Chicago Black­hawks prospect says the Me­mo­rial Cup is the re­al­iza­tion of a plan that be­gan when he joined the Sea Dogs four years.

“Of course you want to play in (the Me­mo­rial Cup). That was an in­di­vid­ual goal of mine … I would say it’s a goal for any ju­nior player,” said Noel. “But for team as a whole, this some­thing that was started a long time ago. You look at our team and there are prob­a­bly 10 key guys who were drafted four or five years ago and we’ve built up to this point.

“Yes, we are happy with won the Pres­i­dents Cup (QMJHL cham­pi­onship), but we know have more work to do if we’re re­ally go­ing to fin­ish the job.

“And we’re go­ing to do it as a team, not a team of in­di­vid­u­als. We are go­ing to do it for each other.”

Noel reg­is­tered nine points (two goals, seven as­sists) an a plus-11 rat­ing in 18 play­offs games for Saint John, which swept the Blainville-bois­briand Ar­mada in the Q fi­nal.

It was part of what has been a dom­i­nat­ing sea­son for the Sea Dogs, who ended the reg­u­lar sched­ule with a 48-14-6 record and as the third-ranked team in the top-10 list for the Cana­dian Hockey League, the um­brella that cov­ers the three ma­jor ju­nior cir­cuits — the QMJHL , On­tario Hockey League and West­ern Hockey League.

So it’s not likely Saint John will en­ter the Me­mo­rial Cup as an un­der­dog, but Noel still feels the Sea Dogs will be open some eyes.

“I think peo­ple will be sur­prised at how phys­i­cal we play,” said Noel. “We have a lot of skill, we have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence, but I also think we’re one of the most phys­i­cal, if not the most phys­i­cal, teams out there.

“It’s a big part of our game and it will be im­por­tant (in Windsor).”

The Sea Dogs be­gin their Me­mo­rial Cup tour­ney against the host Windsor Spit­fires Fri­day. The OHL cham­pion Erie Ot­ters and WHL cham­pion Seat­tle Thun­der­birds are the other en­tries.

Noel was drafted third over­all by the Sea Dogs in the 2013 QMJHL midget draft and as is the case with most play­ers taken that high, came into the ju­nior ranks with the rep­u­ta­tion as an of­fen­sive player — in 2011-12, he scored 104 points in 56 games as a ban­tam with Shat­tuck-st. Mary’s, the same Min­nesota prep school that once fea­tured Sid­ney Crosby as a player.

And Noel has pro­duced of­fen­sively for the Sea Dogs over his four years in Saint John, with 208 points (85 goals, 123 as­sists) in 252 reg­u­lar-sea­son games, in­clud­ing an al­most point-per-game pace this sea­son (24G, 26 A, 50 Pts in 52 games).

But he has also be­come one of the team’s most re­li­able de­fen­sive for­wards, and is rou­tinely is used by head coach Danny Flynn for key face­offs, es­pe­cially in the Saint John end of the ice. De­spite miss­ing 16 games mid-sea­son with a shoul­der in­jury, Noel still found him­self on the draw 925 times this sea­son, sec­ond-most on the Sea Dogs behind only fel­low Black­hawk prospect Matthew High­more, the team’s lead­ing scorer.

What’s more, his 57.2 per cent win rate on face­offs was best on the club and among the best in en­tire QMJHL.

“I think I know my role and that’s to be a de­pend­able, twoplayer and I think now I’ve be­come the player I was turn­ing into over the last few sea­sons, if you know what I mean” said Noel, who is a reg­u­lar on the team’s penalty kill and also sees time on the sec­ond pow­er­play unit.

“I’ve so­lid­i­fied my role and I’m com­fort­able in it.”

His two-way prow­ess also should help in his trans­for­ma­tion to the pro game, which will likely be­gin this fall in the Black­hawks or­ga­ni­za­tion. Chicago took him with a fourthround pick in the 2016 NHL En­try Draft.

Be­ing drafted helped elim­i­nated the dis­ap­point­ment of the pre­vi­ous sum­mer when he was passed over in his first year of draft el­i­gi­bil­ity. It also added to his con­fi­dence.

“I don’t want to say be­ing drafted made it an eas­ier year for me, but it’s al­ways nice to know you have that se­cu­rity for your fu­ture,” said Noel, who turns 20 next month. “At the same time, it brought some pres­sure, be­cause you want to live up to the pick. You want to show (the Black­hawks) that they made a good move.”

Chicago must have felt jus­ti­fied in se­lect­ing Noel, sign­ing him to a three-year en­try-level deal three weeks ago.

“It’s great to be able to know I’ll be tak­ing the next step in my hockey ca­reer, but as I said be­fore, I’m not fin­ished with this part of my ca­reer yet,” said Noel.

“I’ll start think­ing about next sea­son af­ter we do what we have to do in Windsor.”

COMPASS FILE PHOTO

Saint John Sea Dogs cen­tre Nathan Noel (10), shown in ac­tion against the Blainville-bois­briand Ar­mada in the QMJHL cham­pi­onship fi­nal, has be­come an ef­fec­tive two-way cen­tre for the Sea Dogs, who are one of four en­tries in the Me­mo­rial Cup tour­na­ment.

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