Claude Noel Recounts Fond Experiences with the PHPA

Author: Darryl Dionne, PHPA Director of Communications and Business Development
Date: May 29, 2017

Before he became a successful NHL Head Coach and scout, Claude Noel enjoyed a 13-year professional hockey career from 1974-1988 split between the American Hockey League (AHL) and International Hockey League (IHL) as well as a season-long stint in Switzerland.  He spent four of those seasons serving as the Hershey Bears’ Player Representative for the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA), and would later be elected to the PHPA Executive Committee.  Noel will return to the PHPA this June for the Association’s 50th Annual Meeting of Player Representative where he will be honored as an Era Representative as part of the PHPA’s 50th Anniversary celebrations for the contributions he made to the PHPA during his playing career.

After concluding his first season of professional hockey in 1976-77 where he recorded 46 points in 80 games with the Bears, Noel found himself in unfamiliar territory when he was asked to represent his Hershey Bears teammates at the PHPA's Annual Meeting of Player Representatives.

“I was thrust into the role of PHPA Player Representative when our current rep and alternate could not attend the Annual Meeting,” said Noel.  “I was nervous at that first meeting and took more of an observational approach, watching what was going on, listening carefully to the speaker presentations.  I found the issues being discussed very interesting and enjoyed witnessing how all of the different aspects of the PHPA worked. The next season I remained in that role and continued as our team’s PHPA Rep for the next four seasons.”

At the following year's PHPA Annual Meeting, Noel was elected by his peers to serve on the PHPA Executive Committee.  “I wasn’t expecting to be elected to the Executive but certainly took the role very seriously.  I remember sitting in meetings where fireworks were going off as a number of issues became very heated.  I recall the bickering that went on when it came to the cost of player insurance as well as meal money, and how heated everything became at times. I was surprised at how interested and active a number of the players were with respect to the various matters.”

Throughout his tenure with the PHPA, Noel says he enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow players who were representing American Hockey League and Central Hockey League teams at the time. “The people I met were great, the Annual Meetings were always very well run and executed, and the topics discussed by (former PHPA Executive Director) Curt Leichner and (Insurance Agent) Arlo Goodwin were quite interesting, especially the Insurance Program which really helped the players.”

After spending five seasons with the Hershey Bears, which included seven games in the NHL with Washington during the 1979-80 season, Noel signed with Toledo of the International Hockey League before spending the 1983-84 season in Switzerland.  He played four more years in the IHL before finding his calling as a coach.

Although his involvement with the PHPA did not necessarily transcend him into his coaching career which began in 1988 with the Ontario Hockey League’s North Bay Centennials, he would cross paths with the PHPA again in the early 1990’s as Head Coach of the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers, when the PHPA began an aggressive initiative to represent ECHL players.  “Our team owner kept me abreast on the issues which enabled me to see the business side of the sport from management’s perspective.  It was interesting to see both sides having been involved as a player for so many years.  Players eventually voted in favor of PHPA representation.”

Noel would go on to be a Head Coach in the IHL and AHL where he would coach the Milwaukee Admirals to a Calder Cup Championship in 2004 while earning Coach of the Year honors.  In 2007 he was hired as an Assistant Coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and would eventually assume Head Coaching duties.  Noel would also serve as the first Head Coach of the re-born Winnipeg Jets.

With all the success he had as a Coach, Noel explains that his experience with the PHPA helped him when it came to dealing with management and handling player/coach issues.  “One thing I took away from attending the PHPA meetings was that I learned how to sit and listen and see how issues were managed and resolved.  I gained valuable experience learning to negotiate which serves me well to this day.”

Noel is now a scout for the New Jersey Devils, and to this day, advises players to get involved with the PHPA.  “Today’s players should know what their Association does for them, especially if they are wondering why they are paying union dues.  It’s important to have an understanding of what is going on, and to have a voice and opinion. Be active, help your teammates understand the terms of the CBA, and know that the PHPA offers some incredible programs that can really help players and their families.”

Noel is looking forward to speaking to the current crop of PHPA Player Representatives at the 50th PHPA Annual Meeting this June 12 - 17 in Orlando, Florida and explaining how far the Association has come since his days as a player.  “I had some great times meeting management and fellow players.  Sitting on the Executive Committee and dealing with ownership was a real eye opener.  To witness the heated arguments, build relationships, and help guys have a structured future was a very fun and enjoyable experience with some fond memories.  I am honoured to have been selected as an Era Representative and to be part of the PHPA’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.”



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