Noel’s in good company

Robin
Robin Short
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Some hockey players are drafted for their size. Some for their combination of speed and size. But most are selected on conjecture, that is the difficult task is trying to determine how a player will develop, in the case of 15- and 16-year-olds, two or three years down the road.

Today, a team — quite likely the Saint John Sea Dogs — will select Nathan Noel in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s midget draft in Chicoutimi, Que., and that team will know exactly what it’s getting — a hockey player who can flat out score.

Noel, 15, is the third-ranked player in the QMJHL’s Central Scouting rankings, behind a pair of midget hockey players from the Montreal area, Nicolas Roy and Jeremy Roy.

Eagles pick first, Sea Dogs have third choice

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles own the No. 1 overall pick in today’s draft, followed by the Shawinigan Cataractes. The Sea Dogs draft third followed by the Sherbrooke Phoenix and Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Rounding out the top 10 are Gatineau Olympiques and Shawinigan, then Acadie-Bathurst and the Val d’Or Foreurs with the ninth and 10th overall picks.

Noel, from St. John’s, is the best young hockey player to come out of Newfoundland since Clark Bishop, who went third overall to Cape Breton in last year’s draft.

There are lots of solid youngsters from Newfoundland, but those of Noel’s and Bishop’s skillset are few and far between.

Last year, Noel scored 10 goals and 40 points in 52 games at Shattuck St. Mary’s, the prep school/hockey factory in Faribault, Minn. Decent numbers, but all the more impressive when you consider Noel was the only 1997-born player on the roster.

In fact, only a few underagers have ever made Shattuck’s prep team (the top rung on the school’s hockey ladder), among them Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.

Nice company, indeed.

Noel was also one of the youngest at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge this past winter, one of two 1997-born players on the Team Atlantic roster in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Que.

In 2011-12, his first season at Shattuck, the slick centreman piled up 45 goals and 104 points in 56 games for the school’s bantam team.

Of course, merely being good does not make a hockey career. There are several other factors, not the least of which is how badly does the player want to play?

Does Noel want to be a player?

“Words can’t describe it,” he said this week before heading to Chicoutimi, the picturesque city in northern Quebec where the former St. John’s Fog Devils held their expansion draft eight years ago.

“I know it takes a lot of work to be a successful hockey player, and I’m prepared to do the work.

“I’m training every day, either with my trainer, Ryan Power, or I’m running Signal Hill. It’s a lot of work, but it’s something you have to do.”

Noel was coached by Tom Ward at Shattuck last season, and Ward is reluctant to punch Noel’s ticket to the NHL just yet. He is, after all, but 15, turning 16 the end of the month.

Noel is slight — 165 pounds on a 5-10 frame — so he needs to put some meat on those bones. He needs to be harder on the puck and, of course, like any youngster, he needs to play without the puck, and in his own zone.

Yet, there is no denying his natural skill. It’s in him, Ward says, and only time will tell.

“He’s definitely got the potential to be a heck of a hockey player.”

While every hockey player would like to go No. 1 in the draft, some insiders suggest the Screaming Eagles may be looking towards the defenceman, Jeremy Roy. And Noel isn’t fussy on the predominantly French-speaking community of Shawinigan, even though the Cataractes won the Memorial Cup in 2012.

Then again, the Sea Dogs — the Fog Devils’ expansion cousins — won Canada’s top junior prize in 2011 and have quickly established themselves as one of the finer QMJHL franchises.

“I can’t say exactly where I want to go, but it would definitely be great to get to Saint John,” he said. “But who knows what can happen at a draft. I’ve talked to most teams in the league and who knows but there won’t be some trades and teams move and down (the draft order).”

Unlike players selected in the draft’s later rounds, players who have few options but to report to the team’s training camp, Noel has an ace up his sleeve if, say, Val d’Or or the team with which few want to play — Acadie-Bathurst — calls his name.

That option would be returning to Shattuck, finishing high school and going the college route. Noel is a very good student and NCAA schools have already informally expressed an interest in the Newfoundlander.

“The coach wants me to let him know as soon as I can what my intentions are for next season,” he said. “He wants me back, Shattuck is far from a bad option if I can’t get to the team I want.”

In the meantime, Noel isn’t the only Newfoundlander who played at Shattuck last season. Big defenceman Andrew Picco played with the school’s under-16 team last season and is ranked to go in the fourth round by QMJHL Central Scouting.

•••••

Nice to see sport bridging broad political and historical gaps every so often­.

It happened this week at Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay, where the Pakistani and Israeli teams competing in the world ball hockey championship posed for a photo following the opening ceremony.

Pakistan is a Muslim country, and for centuries,  Muslims and Jews have clashed, sometimes viciously.

Naveed Mohammad is a veteran ball hockey player on the Pakistani team, having played the game since 1975. He lives in Toronto now, but played for Pakistan’s team that won the 2007 and 2011 world championship B pool title.

Because of its B pool victory two years ago, Pakistan was elevated to the A pool for this week’s tournament in St. John’s.

“We knew this would be difficult because now we’re playing against Canada and the Czech Republic,” Mohammad said.

“Yet we were looking forward to it, until we saw a team from Israel would be playing in the B pool.

“Some of our players were saying wouldn’t it be fun to play against the Israelis, given the political situation with the two countries. Of course, it was said in jest.

“It so happened that at the opening ceremonies (Tuesday night), the two teams were standing next to each other. Give credit to the Israeli leadership, they initiated the move to come over to us and have a photo taken of the two teams.”

The arena’s floor was a sea of humanity, and local organizers were hustling the athletes to the locker rooms when it clicked in what was going on with the teams from Pakistan and Israel.

“Once people realized what was up, what a photo opportunity this was, everybody was taking photos.

“We all thought, ‘What a wonderful thing sport can do.’

“We hope to play each other some day.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.

He can be reached by email at rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Team Atlantic, NHL NCAA

Geographic location: Chicoutimi, Shawinigan, Newfoundland Montreal Cape Breton Faribault, Minn. Pakistan Victoriaville Drummondville Canada Northern Quebec Signal Hill Saint John Israel Torbay Toronto Czech Republic

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