Anthony Noreen is about to leave the Youngstown Phantoms and head South. After a season in which he won USHL Coach of the Year, he's been stolen away by the Orlando Solar Bears for the position of Head Coach. The selection has made a few fans in Orlando tilt their heads, mostly because Noreen has yet to coach on a professional level, but the selection makes perfect sense to an important Toronto-area man, Kyle Dubas.
Dubas says of Noreen: "Over the last number of seasons I've had the chance to watch Anthony's teams in Youngstown, and have always come away impressed with the pace, energy and structure that his teams play with. Anthony comes very highly regarded amongst those in junior and college hockey. He's very well connected and his teams continually produce excellent results and develop players for the next level. We are very excited that Anthony will be working with our prospects in Orlando."
Noreen's selection probably points to the Maple Leafs' interest in using Orlando as a location for player development. Noreen has helped develop Winnipeg Jets prospect Kyle Connor, and has spent four seasons coaching the Youngstown Phantoms. Last year he led the team to an Anderson Cup (most points in the regular season with a 40-14-6 record), ranking first in goals scored (223), power play goals (65), and shorthanded goals (16). This offensive coaching record is much-needed, and will help bolster the Solar Bears' solid defensive play, and support the lights-out goaltending of Toronto prospect Garret Sparks (if we're lucky enough to get him back).
Why hire a junior hockey coach for a professional position? It's possible that organizations such as the Leafs have been encouraged by the record of previous USHL coaches-turned-pro, such as Jon Cooper, Dave Hakstol, and Derek Lalonde.
After assisting the Bears through free agency, Noreen's next step is to head back north to Toronto. Solar Bears President Jason Siegel says, "Coach Noreen will hit the ground running recruiting free agents, re-signing players from last season, and monitoring the affiliated players that may join us from Toronto as we prepare our roster for training camp in October. He will also be participating in the Maple Leafs development and pre-season camps to familiarize himself with the entire organization and the players that may begin the season in Orlando."
Noreen has the usual things to say about his new appointment: "I am honored and excited to be the next Head Coach of the Orlando Solar Bears. I want to thank Joe Haleski, Jason Siegel, and the entire Toronto Maple Leafs organization for this special opportunity. I look forward to putting a team together that will make this city proud by the way they compete on the ice and carry themselves in the community."
The best argument in Noreen's favor comes from Youngstown, where the Phantoms organization celebrated and mourned Noreen's departure. The Phantoms owners, Troy and Aafke Loney, added their support for the decision: "We are thrilled that Anthony has been afforded this opportunity in the ECHL. He has been such an instrumental part of our organization’s growth and is well-deserving of this new position. His talents will be missed here in Youngstown." Noreen was the first coach in franchise history to be named Coach of the Year for the league.
Phantoms Co-owner Bruce Zoldan said: “Anthony has made substantial contributions to the Youngstown Phantoms and to hockey in our community, and we owe him a great debt of gratitude. He has raised the awareness and expectations for hockey in Youngstown. I took a gamble on a young, inexperienced coach. He impressed me then as a man of integrity and dedication to the sport and the players, and Anthony has certainly validated my decision. If there is ever a Youngstown Hockey Hall of Fame, Anthony Noreen should be one of the first inductees. We thank Anthony and wish him well."(Read more of Youngstown's reaction here, and the Solar Bears press release here.)
I, for one, am looking forward to our new Solar Bears overlord.