Marcel Noebels: From Tonisvorst to Seattle via hockey
Marcel Noebels is the best import player the Seattle Thunderbirds have seen in about a decade. Most will say there is little to argue about with that statement. It’s early March and the Thunderbirds are suddenly in a fight for their lives to make the playoffs. Noebels, an 18 year old forward from Tonisvorst, Germany is currently sitting at 25 goals and 49 points and he is in the top five in rookie scoring. He has five more goals in the shootout. The numbers are important to him but so is winning and of course being drafted. When you sit down and talk with him you realize how focused he is on his game and what he needs to do to get better. He’s also getting used to the WHL and life with his American billets.
Back at home when he was growing up many of the other kids were playing soccer but not Noebels. It was just different, he said. So many others were playing soccer. I wanted to skate, to be skilled at skating. So he practiced and practiced and ended up with the Krefeld Penguins. That would be the name of his team for several years. You keep moving up levels, he told me.
I’ve often wondered about the grueling schedule these guys have to go through from a very early age. Between school, practice and games how do they manage? When I got older it was harder.. get out of school at 4 then practice at 6, so just two hours to eat.. do homework…get to the rink. Weekends are tough with games with no days off days during the week…it wasn’t easy.
It might not have been easy for Noebels but you can sense that he may have enjoyed the challenge. While the routine became more challenging as he got older and he didn’t have his parents helping him with things like homework anymore, it was the competition that really got tougher. It was easier when I was younger and winning awards a lot.. when you get older, the competition gets tougher.
While he excelled back home he made the decision to come play in Seattle because he felt the WHL was where it’s at. I just wanted to come to the WHL to get a better chance at getting drafted..the WHL is the hardest and toughest league.
When pressed about what the toughest aspect of the league is Noebels doesn’t hesitate to answer. Toughest part of the league is to make sure you keep head up or you get checked hard.. working hard along the boards. It’s more physical here, in Germany the rink is bigger so it’s about speed and skill, here it’s much more of a physical game.
He knows the skill level here is considerably higher than back in Germany. Guys have a lot of skill here, like our goalie Pickard. There are guys here that will be in the NHL soon. Goalies are much better in this league. It’s obvious that Noebels wants to play against the more skilled players in order to make his game that much better. But let’s not kid ourselves he also has his eye on the prize which is getting drafted this June.
I asked him if he will be there in person even though it’s such a long way from home. Yes I hope to go of course. If I don’t know that I’m going to be drafted in the first three rounds I won’t go to St.Paul. I hope to get drafted in the first few rounds.
So we know that like most players of his caliber he wants to go all the way to the NHL. But who did he look up to when he was growing up? His first response is to talk about current players that he likes. Steven Stamkos..Sidney Crosby. But what about when he was just a little kid? Wayne Gretzky when I was a little boy because he’s the best hockey player ever. Strong statement but can you really argue?
If you spend some time with Noebels you see that his days are fairly structured. Especially on game days when he’s ultra focused. His pre game rituals are pretty much set in stone, even his meals. Pasta and meat balls. Roger (one of his billets) cooks so good. It’s good before a game. I asked him if once the rituals are over with and it’s game time does he get nervous at all? Not nervous, I’m concentrating. To be ready for the game. Once the puck drops you forget about anything else but what is in front of you.
When the Thunderbirds don’t win Noebels can get in a bad mood. Does he take the losing personally? After a game I can’t change what happened but I always have in my mind what I can do better to help the team win. I don’t like losing. It’s just that simple he says. He knows that a big reason for any success the Birds have is because of their goalies. The goalie is an important part of the team. We have the best in the league (Calvin Pickard). He keeps us in the game so much. Michael Salmon also does a good job with as little time as he gets, he’s always ready.
Noebels has had great success in the shootout this season which has really helped the Birds earn points that they couldn’t earn last season. When you ask him what his method is to scoring in such a high pressure situation you realize that it’s more involved than it appears. I like to go second in the shootout so I can watch what the goalie is doing. So I know what I have to do to beat him.
One thing that can wear a first year WHL player down is the road schedule. In November the Birds went on their Eastern swing through Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It was about a 20 hour ride to Brandon for the game. The Eastern swing was the longest bus drive I ever had but the trip was good..good hotels.. good food.. I can sleep on the bus and we have a good driver also. Climbing over seats and people to get to the bathroom is tough sometimes. Such is life on the road in the Dub.
In December Noebels played in the World Juniors Tournament in Buffalo. Even though Team Germany didn’t do well it was still a great experience for him. I went with Keil from Kamloops and I know lots of guys that were there. The tournament was really good high speed, good contact. We had a few very close games..we were pretty happy with the way we played overall. The teams were all really good..most of the games were close.
Noebels won player of the game in Team Germany’s first tilt. He also won an award for being one of the best three players on his team. Other than the awards and the games themselves it was also a good networking trip for him. I talked to a lot of players. I got to know Bartschi from Portland and talked to him a lot, we were both wearing number 15 there. That would also be Noebels’ number in Seattle.
Even though he had a great time there he also knows he missed out on the holidays that other players get to spend with their friends and families. We missed Christmas and New Year’s with our families but it was a good experience to be there. I never played in a better tournament than that. We played in front of 15,000 people, the way things were scheduled was also perfect..bus rides.. meals.. everything.
Since returning from the tournament Noebels has excelled on the ice. It’s as though just being there made him a better player. He agrees. I‘m a different player since coming back, a better player. You play against the best guys over there so it makes you a better player. The Birds’ coaching staff must also agree since they have given Noebels an “A” to wear since returning. The team gave me an “A” and that’s great. I need to be a leader on the team and step up.
You may not notice it with his play on the ice but it can’t be easy for Noebels to be so far away from home for so long. I miss my family during the season. I don’t have brothers and sisters so it’s hard for them. He knows that he has a great billet family here and it’s not the first time he’s been away during a hockey season. I lived with a billet family in Berlin, so yes it’s not my first time. He’s getting used to playing and living here and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. I think I made the right decision to come here. I have lots of ice time here, I play on the pp and on pk and scouts watch you here..it’s definitely the right decision.
One thing that really strikes this New Yorker as unique with Noebels is that unlike most of the reserved, soft spoken hockey players, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He recently got his first WHL Hat Trick when he scored four goals against the Everett Silvertips. His line didn’t play well in the first period and after the game he was asked what changed after the first 20 minutes. Rob (Head Coach Rob Sumner) gave us some (bleep) and kicked our ass. Sometimes you need that. That’s the kind of honesty you come to expect from Noebels and it’s refreshing.
Speaking of honesty when you ask him what his lifelong dream has been the answer is simple. To be a player in the NHL always…I’ve always dreamed of that. Does he sit in his room at night and think about hoisting the Stanley Cup? Of course I think about winning the Stanley Cup but first I think about getting to the NHL.
But what if it doesn’t happen? I’ve never thought that it won’t happen. I think about working hard, winning and making it.