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PPP interview: Solar Bears head coach Anthony Noreen

Anthony Noreen talks Kyle Connor, Mike Babcock, and the Leafs system.

Olando, Florida -- This past Wednesday, the Solar Bears organization introduced new Solar Bears head coach Anthony Noreen. PPP was given time to interview the coach about how he feels his coaching style will mesh with the Maple Leafs system.

Fellow Solar Bears beat reporter Don Money of Pro Hockey News was with me for this interview. We learned about Noreen's time at Leafs development camp with Mike Babcock, as well as his history of development of such names as Winnipeg Jets prospect Kyle Connor.

Anthony Noreen interview


Achariya: So you've spent some time with the Maple Leafs. Any further comments about their system, and how you've observed their play and want to incorporate it into this year?

Noreen: Very impressive, from top to bottom -- what their plan is, the pieces they've put in place as far as staffing, player development. I got a chance to go up to Collingwood a few weeks ago and -- a lot of bright hockey minds, really big emphasis on development. I know it was a development camp, but when you talk to a lot of guys that go to development camps sometimes they're scrimmaging and doing intense off-ice workouts.

But this was truly a development camp. They care about their players, they want them to have good habits, they want things the Maple Leaf way -- a lot of media training. Just very good things as far as developing young men, and developing pros. So I was completely impressed with everything they've done there.

You spend two minutes talking to Kyle Dubas and you realize how bright his future is and how bright of a young man he is. So, it's an honor to be a part of this organization, and I think it's going in a great direction.

Achariya: Did you get to work at all with Mike Babcock?

Noreen: So, Mike came in the first day we were on the ice in development camp. He didn't come on the ice, he observed from above. He did come down and introduce himself to everyone afterwards, all the coaches and development staff. He gave us some tips, asked some questions. You know, one thing, I had a chance to have a run in with him at the NHL Draft convention a couple of years ago.

He's always looking to learn. He doesn't think he's got it all figured out. He asks questions, wants to get better, and I think that's the reason why he's at the top of our profession. He was no different there. He had some questions, he had some comments. And I think for an NHL coach to be at a development camp, shows that he cares. Making time out of his summer to come up to Collingwood shows that he's invested in this organization.

Don: Tell us a little bit about your coaching, your philosophies and your influences.

Noreen: Influences. The first coaching job I had was at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point working for a guy named Wil Nichol. Nichol was a former USHL coach at Erie, now works for the Washington Capitols. He comes from the Enrico Blasi coaching tradition, coming out of Miami University in Ohio. So that's kind of the coaching tree I come from.

Our big thing is culture. We want to put the right people in place, we want guys to do the right thing, we want it to be a family atmosphere, we want guys to truly like each other and work together and help each other reach their goals. I mean, that's one of the things I always talk about.

This isn't tennis. You need to be an active member of a team. You need to make the guys around you better. That's how I challenge every one of the guys I coach -- I challenge them to make me better, and I sure as heck hope that I can make them better.

I come from a hockey family. My dad was a coach, so from the first time I was able to walk, I would be on the bench with my dad, with my helmet on, coaching. When I was five years old, opening the door for him. And I think that's where we're at.

I grew my passion, I love it, and want to be a coach. I learned a ton from him, he coached way up until I was 16 years old, and obviously he'd probably be the biggest influence just because of how much interaction I had with him, and still, I talk about the game with him all the time.

Nick Pollos is a guy I played for in Chicago, Brad Saban, those are my two youth coaches. Wil Nichols as I said, and I had a chance to work with Curtis Carr who is now the assistant at Merrimack in Youngstown.

And I've learned a lot, honestly, from the players I've coached and the assistants I've worked with. Like I said I've challenged them all to make me better, just as much, I'm going to make them better.

I learned a heck of a lot from Kyle Connor last year, coaching him, coaching an elite player, and how to push him, and how to continue his development. I think you take a little bit from everyone you've been around, and everyone you've played for, and kind of mould your own style.

Don: What should fans expect to see from an Anthony Noreen-coached team?

Noreen: High energy, high pace, passion, discipline. I like to say, playing the game the right way. To me, the right way is fast, physical, disciplined. I like to have a team that has energy.

To me, if you're not giving energy to a team, you're taking it away. I like there to be energy on the bench, I like there to be energy in the locker room, in work outs. And again, that's my philosophy.

Achariya: How do you coach toward integrating the ECHL players into this larger system?

Noreen: The Maple Leafs system? I mean, I think it was made pretty clear at development camp what direction the organization is trying to go in. As far as pursuing pucks, as far as puck possession, just the overall direction we're trying to go in and the overall philosophy.

Now again, I'm sure Sheldon Keefe, Mike Babcock, and myself are all going to have our own nuances as coaches, but I think the fact that we all have the same kind of overall mindset about how we want the game played, I think that's going to help.

I think again that we all value the same things in people. At the end of the day, you could draw a million systems up on the board, at the end of the day, coaching is managing people. I think that we respect the same things in people, I think that we're all looking for the same things in people, I think we all want to teach the same things and value the same things in people.

Don: Talk a little bit about the transition you’re making from junior hockey to professional hockey. This is going to be your first professional coaching chance of any kind, and I know that your hockey resume is not exactly long on playing experience as far as professionally. What do you see are the things that transfer well for you, the way you do things, and what things do you think you are going to have to learn kind of on the fly as this first year goes along?

Noreen: Yeah, I mean I think it’s certainly going to be an adjustment. You know, you’re dealing with men. You’re dealing with guys with families, you’re dealing with guys who are now getting paychecks, and this is how they’re supporting themselves and their families.

You know, there are definitely going to be some changes. Having said that, my principles as a coach are not going to change.

Again, as I talked about in the press conference, my job is to develop people, to develop hockey players, teach them to be responsible young men, teach them to be pros, help them become better players in whatever way I can, and make sure they give back to the community. I did those things in Youngstown, I’ll bring those with me. Are there going to be things I have to tweak and adjust? Absolutely. Are there going to be things I need to simplify? Absolutely.

I’m going to challenge my players. I’m a guy that’s not afraid to get input, and continue to learn and continue to get better, and talk to my peers, guys who have worked in pro hockey and see what the differences are for them. I think I need to get better, just as I’m going to ask my players to get better for this level, and hopefully for every level after that.

Don: You’re only 32 years old, what’s it going to be like coaching these professional players, some of them that are not going to be that much younger than you are?

Noreen: Yeah, I mean I definitely think I’m going to have to earn their respect by being organized, being detailed, having a plan, and prove to them that I’m competent and able to coach and able to lead them. And again, I think I’m a guy that likes to have a relationship with the guys.

I’m not a soft shoulder by any means, but I like to get to know what makes them tick. I think that once I get to sit down and meet them, and they get a sense for what I’m all about, and I earn that respect from them, we’ll move forward accordingly.