‘Sky’s the limit’

John Browne
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Coach says QMJHL rookie Nathan Noel shows early promise

Nathan Noel said he’s pretty pleased with the way he’s playing in his rookie season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Nathan Noel is off to a fast start in his first season with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs.  — Photo courtesy of Saint John Sea Dogs

He has reason to be pleased.

The 16-year-old from St. John’s is off to an impressive start with the QMJHL club, scoring 11 goals and picking up 13 assists through 33 games, good enough for second spot on the team’s scoring.

“Yeah, it’s going well,” said Noel, who centres a line with fellow Newfoundlander Marcus Cuomo and Spencer Smallman on a Sea Dogs roster that also includes Connor Donaghey of St. John’s.

“I just work hard every game and try to earn the coach’s trust. I’m not thinking about points, really.”

Taken third overall in the QMJHL’s Entry Draft last spring, Noel came out of Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota where he scored 10 goals and 40 points last season as the only 1997-born player on the school’s prep team roster.

Hot as a bantam

He registered 45 goals and 104 points in the team’s bantam division the year prior to that.

Noel said spending time in the Shattuck-St. Mary’s program helped him adjust to the size and strength of junior players.

“I just feel a lot more comfortable now,” he said. “I’ve adjusted to the speed. I could definitely get stronger next year, but right now I feel confident.”

Sea Dogs coach Ross Yates said Noel got off to a slow start, but that wasn’t unexpected.

“He was just getting his feet wet in the first 10 games and he didn’t put up a lot of numbers, but since then he’s been pretty good for us,” said Yates.

“He’s getting a ton of ice time now, including time on the power play, and he’s starting to put the points up. He’s done really well for a 16-year-old, for sure.

“It’s going to take any young kid time to adjust and they are going to have their ups and downs,” said Yates.

Yates, who coached the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch for four years and was an assistant for six years prior to that, points out it’s a pretty big jump for Noel, even though he’s coming from a strong U.S. prep school program.

“He’s a 16-year-old playing against 19-year-olds and some 20-year-olds, so size and strength are big issues. But, with his speed and tenacity, he’s been able to cope with it.

“He’s a smart player. He sees the ice well which means he can see when guys are lining him up. He’s pretty crafty that way.”

Not known as a fighter, the 5-10 Noel, nonetheless, got into a scrap in the first month of the season with 6-3 Nicholas Roy, who was selected first overall in the QMJHL’s Entry Draft by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

“Nothing personal,” said Noel about the confrontation. “It’s just something that happened in the heat of the game. We’re both competitive players. That’s just hockey.”

The fight did not go unnoticed by Yates.

“He surprised the other guy (Roy) and he did well in the fight, so that was nice to see.”

The Sea Dogs are in rebuild mode this season — they’re tied for last overall in the league with the Shawinigan Cataractes heading into Friday’s games — and Noel is a big part of the rebuild.

Meanwhile, Noel is looking for another challenge during the holidays.

He was on Team Atlantic last season, but didn’t play much his first time around at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. He anticipates a bigger role this time around for the tournament which runs from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 in Sydney, N.S.

“I hope to take more of a leadership role this year,” he said.

Like any 16-year-old kid, Yates said Noel needs to work on his defensive part of the game, but pointed out that’s what any player his age needs to work on.

Noel said he’s working on that aspect of his game every day and he feels he’s getting better.

The Sea Dogs coach said, “We’re not worried about his offensive side. Were more worried that he does his job and takes care of his responsibility on the defensive end of things. He has to learn that if he wants to progresss and move up.”

That being said, Yates added that Noel has great potential.

“The sky’s the limit. A lot of things have to fall into place like they have to do for any kid,” noted Yates, “but if he’s prepared to put the work in and dedicate himself, he’s got a good future.”

His advice to Noel? Get bigger and stronger. Work in the gym.

“There are all kinds of factors that will influence how fast he goes forward,” said Yates.


Organizations: American Hockey League

Geographic location: Shattuck, Faribault, Minnesota, U.S. Sydney

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