In many ways the Dallas Stars are responsible for getting Stefan Noesen to where he is right now, both in terms of getting his start in the game of hockey, and also in getting him back on track after a season where his maturity had been called into question.
If Noesen gets his wish, the city that’s been so integral to his past — Dallas — will also be where his future will be.
The 17-year-old Texan forward credits the Stars’ organization for helping him refocus on the game and get him prepared for this season — one in which he’s accounted for 11 goals and 17 assists in 25 games. He was also ranked 13th overall in the OHL by Central Scouting in its preliminary mid-November rankings.
“It’s just a natural part of growing up. Last year I had a couple of big issues that I needed to take care of,” he said. “Over the summer, I trained with a bunch of the Dallas Stars and their trainers, and they really showed me the level of maturity you need. It’s how you act around people because you never know who will be watching you.
“Dallas was a big part of it; I think they really got into me. That’s really where I want to wind up. My future’s in Dallas — it’s a great organization and a great culture. I love it all around down there.”
And while Noesen said he’ll be thankful if he’s lucky enough to be drafted by any NHL franchise this year, he’s not going to deny where his heart lies. “No matter who drafts me, it will be a dream come true,” he explained. “But the place I really want to go is Dallas.”
Noesen currently is starring with the Plymouth Whalers. The club’s president/general manager/head coach Mike Vellucci said that he’s noticed a marked difference in Noesen’s off-ice demeanour.
“On the ice last year, with an older team, he did everything we asked. He penalty killed, he didn’t make hardly any mistakes for a 16-year-old on the ice,” Vellucci said. “Off the ice, he was a little immature — forgetting his passport, kids’ stuff like that. This year he came back, he was in phenomenal shape, he worked really hard all summer, and he started off great in the exhibition and it’s carried over to the start of the season.
“I’m not at all surprised that he’s doing that well on the ice, because he’s that good of a player.”
Noesen credits a summer of training with the Stars for his improvement — and it was his Dallas-area connections that hooked him up with the club.
“I have to give credit to the Stars down there; they did a really good job with training me this summer,” Noesen explained. “This is my first summer that I really trained hard, bared down, and focused on my training to the best of my ability. So I have to give it to them, really. I also think it’s my whole mental attitude — summer’s been very good to me. They treated me just like I was part of the family down there, so it was great.
“One of my buddies that I used to play with — he’s a ‘91 — way back in the day, I’m talking Mites, he kind of got hooked in with J.J. McQueen, the Dallas trainer, and he heard a name, and heard a name, and one thing led to another and I started talking to him.”
Noesen knew on what he wanted to focus this summer. “I’ve known ever since I came here that my skating needed to improve a lot and that’s kind of what I told him I needed to work on — my quick starts, going from one end to the other, my physical strength,” he said. “And also one of their scouts, Brent Severyn, he did a really good job with me around the net — my hands position, my quick releases — he worked on me on that. Just the little things — going to the corner, working on my overall strength, the little things like that were the things I was working on this summer.”
So how does a kid from Plano, Texas find his way to the Ontario Hockey League? Well, the story ends with a prominent Michigan-area hockey organization recruiting him out of tournaments — but it started with the arrival of a NHL franchise in Dallas.
“[The arrival of Dallas] was very big. The team was up in Minnesota for a while as the North Stars and once they came, Mike Modano did a really good job [promoting] hockey for little kids,” Noesen explained. “Mike did the Future Stars down there, so once they came Modano kind of took over from there and Joe Nieuwendyk, they did a good job of growing the game of hockey down there.”
From there, he was exposed to the Compuware organization through their sponsored tournaments. “Playing for Dallas, I played Compuware a couple of times [with the Dallas Ice Jets] and their coach kind of recruited me a little bit, so after that I worked may way up through the Compuware system until I’m here with the Whalers,” he said. “They’re associated in the same building, so I just moved locker rooms in a sense.”
Noesen said that, despite the increased interest in the game of hockey in Texas, he grew up during a time when it was hard finding elite-level competition.
“It’s kind of tough — the guys in my area they weren’t really high-end, or AAA players,” Noesen explained. “The teams were pretty small, so you’d have some guys who may not have been as good playing on a AAA team, and we’d also have guys from all over — we’d have people travelling one hour or two hours to play. We only had a couple of practices a week, but they did have to drive pretty far.
“[Texan hockey] was starting to get pretty big before I left, actually. I left and then Casey Holman left, but it was starting to get pretty big. We started out pretty small with just a couple of coaches here and there, and then it started blowing up out of proportion — our team won nationals one year. Texas is known as a hockey hotbed down there. You have Oklahoma, Arizona and teams like that, but we were the central location for all of down in the south.”
Now Noesen is playing a key role for the Whalers who have been one of the OHL’s pleasant surprises to date this season. Despite losing all-world forward Tyler Seguin (BOS), Plymouth’s young guns have stepped up and have led the team to the upper echelons of the Western Conference. While they may not yet be elite, they’re certainly ahead of expectations — and Noesen said the fact that the team is so youth-dominated has allowed him to assume a role with which he’s quite familiar.
“I think that the secondary guys have to play a big role here. I know for a fact that our captains have been doing a very good job so far, being positive in the dressing room,” Noesen explained. “We’re a very young team and what I like about that is that I can be a leader myself. I’ve always had that leadership mentality and I’ve always been a team leader growing up.
“I don’t want to say I’ve been the go-to-guy, but I’ve been a leader and an assistant captain all throughout my life. It’s been kind of good for me, because now I’m able to take on my old role, get back to my old game, and be a leader that I used to be.”
In terms of leadership, Vellucci mentioned that he’s noticed Noesen’s off-ice maturity has grown by leaps and bounds. He admitted that Noesen’s on-ice leadership have never been in doubt.
“He sees the ice like — well, I’m not going to say any names, but… Well, he sees the ice great. He makes plays that his linemates sometimes aren’t ready for,” Vellucci explained. “He just really sees the ice a lot, he can make plays. Little chips, blind passes — all these little things, he just knows where everyone is on the ice.
“You know that’s a gift and not too many guys have that.”
Noesen’s been turning heads on-ice all year. And the young forward has admitted that it’s been a challenge to ignore the pressure that comes from knowing that scouts are in the crowd.
“I’m kind of feeling the pressure a little bit. I’ve been trying to put it in the back of my head and try to not show it in a sense,” Noesen said. “Of course, I’m pretty sure all the guys who are draft-eligible are shaky, a little bit, but we’re trying to play that team game. Like our coach says, the farther the team goes, the farther the individual will go, so that’s how we’re approaching it.
“It’s nice that they’re watching. I’ve always wanted to play in front of a big crowd, in a big arena. Of course you’re going to see some scouts in the stands, no matter where you go. But I try to put that in the back of my head.”
Despite Noesen’s prodigious off-ice growth, he admits that there’s still plenty of on-ice room for improvement. “I’d still say my skating — it’s getting better and it’s a lot better than it was last year, but I think that is a key thing,” Noesen said. “Other than that, I’ve been playing well lately, but I can always do better — I’m never satisfied with where I’m at.”
His coach agrees — adding that Noesen’s been a model teammate from a coaching standpoint.
“Conditioning and skating. His skating is average to above-average But I think the stronger that he gets the better skater that he’s going to be,” Vellucci said. “From that standpoint, other than that, he’s done everything we’ve asked this year.”
And if Noesen gets everything he asks for, he’ll stride across the stage in Minnesota at the 2011 NHL entry draft — a player developed largely in part due to the transfer of that city’s NHL franchise to Dallas.