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Published: Friday, 6/20/2003

Noel won't forsake Toledo, despite move

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

He's leaving Toledo, but Claude Noel says that he'd like to maintain a relationship with the Storm organization that helped put him in position to return to the American Hockey League.

Noel - who led Toledo to the best record in the East Coast Hockey League this season - was introduced yesterday as the new head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals at a news conference in that city.

The Admirals are the top farm club of the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators, and Noel is returning to a city and an organization where he served as an assistant coach from 1998-2002 before leading the Storm to a 47-15-10 finish.

``I recognize that Toledo gave me an opportunity,” Noel said. ``If it wasn't for Toledo, this would never have happened. I owe a lot to [Storm vice president and general manager] Mike Miller and [managing partner] Tim Gladieux. I'm going to continue to try to build the road to success in Toledo. When you right the ship, you want to see it continue to sail.”

To help keep the ship on course, Noel said he would like to see the partnership that he established last year between the Storm, Nashville and Milwaukee continue. The Toledo-Nashville affiliation is up for renewal.

Noel said he'll also consider utilizing some of his players from this past season, if they're able to make the jump to the higher-level AHL.

``I know them. I trust them and they trust me. I hope that there can be some type of reward for those kind of players. I'll do the best I can to help them advance their careers.”

A former Goaldigger center who captained Toledo's 1981-82 Turner Cup championship team in the International Hockey League, Noel's ECHL club tied a franchise record for points this season, with 104, while winning the Brabham Cup. Only three regulation losses at the Sports Arena also set a record.

He was named ECHL coach of the year for his efforts.

The season ended during the Northwest Division finals when upstart Cincinnati knocked off the Storm in four games of the best-of-five series.

At the Sports Arena, the search for Noel's replacement is under way. Assistant coach Nick Vitucci, hired Monday to replace Mark Bernard who took a head coaching position in the United Hockey League, is running the hockey operations.

Vitucci is a candidate for Noel's old job.

``We're in no hurry to make a decision,” Miller said. ``We're going to take our time and make the right choice. Nick has already sent qualifying offers to last year's players and he's talked with everybody on the team. I'm comfortable with him here.”

After his successful year in Toledo, the comfort of returning to the city where he has a home and where his family lives isn't lost on a grateful Noel.

``An opportunity to get back in the AHL and be a head coach is certainly something that you hope will exist again in your career,” Noel said. ``Having my family here, knowing the territory and having worked in the organization for four years, it's not going to take long to get acclimated to the situation.

``I'm very fortunate.”



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