Representing your country as a player is an experience that many have had a hard time putting into words. It’s been described as an unbelievable honor, an exciting experience and a memory that will never be forgotten. However, the passion for representing your country goes beyond wearing the jersey and extends to being behind the bench as a coach.
“It’s as special of an honor as I’ve ever had in my coaching career,” Noreen said after being named coach of the U.S. Junior Select Team that will play in the 2018 World Junior A Challenge December 9-16 in Bonnyville, Alberta. “To be given the honor to serve any team, it’s special, but when it is the national team and it’s a team that is going to be wearing the USA logo on its chest is a dream come true for me and an honor I don’t take lightly.”
Noreen is in his second season as coach and general manager of the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League, the lone Tier I junior league in the U.S. All of the staff and players come from the USHL. He has also been an assistant on this team for the 2013 and 2017 tournaments and feels ready to call all the shots.
“I learned a lot about the tournament, the ins and outs of it and what to expect and I think that’s very important,” said Noreen, giving credit for his preparation to Marc Boxer, USA Hockey’s director of junior hockey, and P.K. O’Handley, the winningest coach in USHL history, among others.
Noreen also gained experience as a head coach and general manager of the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, a league that he feels is the perfect place for him as a coach.
“At this level, at the end of the day, as a coach, you’re a teacher,” Noreen said. “You want to have the most impact, be some place where you feel you can have the most impact on young men both as hockey players and as people. You want to see them grow, see them develop. You’re getting guys at such a young age where a lot of them are away from home for the first time, they’ve got a full-time training and practice schedule for the first time, they’re playing with guys at their same level for the first time, so their development level really takes off.”In constructing the roster, Noreen said an emphasis was placed on speed, skill and the ability to fit into a team concept. None of the 21 players selected played in last year’s World Junior A Challenge, although many have USA Hockey experience of some kind.
Eight players have participated in the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, a showcase for draft-eligible players: goaltender Isaiah Saville (Tri-City Storm); defensemen Ethan Frisch (Green Bay Gamblers), Zac Jones (Tri-City Storm) and forwards Trevor Janicke (Central Illinois Flying Aces), Robert Mastrosimone (Chicago Steel), Ryan O'Reilly (Fargo Force), Shane Pinto (Lincoln Stars) and Grant Silianoff (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders). O’Reilly was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Two other key players figure to be forwards Bobby Brink (Sioux City Musketeers) and Matt Brown (Des Moines Buccaneers), two of the top three scorers in the USHL.
“The number one thing from the start was we wanted to be sure to put the best team together, not necessarily just the best group of individuals, but the best team,” Noreen said.
Fitting into the team concept quickly is one of the biggest keys. Noreen pointed out that many of these players are either captains or assistant captains on their USHL teams, while most will be taking on roles they might not be used to.
“Not every guy is going to be on the power play and not every guy is going to be playing the minutes they are on their team back home,” Noreen said.
While there was a lot of work that went into putting this team together, the event will be quick. The roster was announced November 16 and the players will arrive in Bonnyville on December 4. There will be just a few practices before an exhibition against Canada East on December 7. The U.S. plays Canada West in its tournament opener December 9. Russia and the Czech Republic are the other entrants in the tournament.
Noreen is hoping to hoping to give the U.S. its eighth title in its 12th appearance in this tournament. The Americans came close last year, but lost to Canada West 5-1 in the championship game. Noreen said it is one of those games that he and O’Handley, the head coach last year, rehash whenever they cross paths on the USHL circuit.
“It’s a game we think about late at night,” Noreen said. “It’s one that just left a bad taste in our mouth and obviously something we hope to get turned in the right way this year.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.