First-year Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel played just seven NHL games with the 1979-80 Washington Capitals but had a long minor-league career before moving into coaching. His first professional stop: The 1975-76 Buffalo Norsemen (remember them?) of the old North American Hockey League.
The Norsemen played just one year and had a roster that featured former NHLers Guy Trottier and Steve Atkinson (who had played for the Sabres in the early years). They played at the Tonawanda Sports Center, which was then turned into a tennis facility. Noel, then a 20-year-old, was making $225 a week and loving life.
Aficionados of Buffalo sports history remember that the Norsemen's season ended when they forfeited Game Five of a playoff series in Johnstown, Pa., after the host Jets initiated a pregame brawl. It's a scene that was the basis for one of the memorable moments in the hockey classic "Slap Shot"
"I remember the ride back on the bus when I thought , 'This is gonna be a heck of a career if we've got to play in this league for five or six years,' " Noel said today. "I think it scared me to death enough to work out in the summer and hope I get an opportunity. I signed with the Buffalo Sabres (and played in the organization with the Hershey Bears) ... it scared the bejeezus out of me."
Click below to hear more of Noel's memories of his year in Tonawanda, including playing against the Hanson Brothers of Slap Shot fame, and the brawlers in Quebec known as the Beauce Jaros who led the NAHL that season.