The Eye Of The Storm

Anthony Noreen’s Proven Track Record Of Developing Players While Creating Successful Teams Pays Off

Anthony Noreen understands just how difficult it is to win in the United States Hockey League on a regular basis.

In the 20 seasons since the 16-team league has competed at the Tier I level under USA Hockey’s umbrella, 13 different teams have hoisted the Clark Cup as playoff champion. No team has won it more than three times in that span.

“I can’t imagine there’s a league out there, at any level of hockey, where it’s harder to be consistently good year after year,” said Noreen, who won the USHL coach of the year award for the third time in his career after guiding the Tri-City Storm to the Anderson Cup as regular-season champion. 

“To the league’s credit, it’s designed where, if you struggle one year, you have a really good chance to be good the next year, and if you’re really good one year, it’s a tremendous challenge to maintain it the next.”

Noreen, a 39-year-old Chicago native, certainly understands how to win in the USHL. 

He has amassed a 301-184-26-17 record (.617 winning percentage) and qualified for the playoffs seven of a possible eight times over his nine seasons, including four with the Youngstown Phantoms and the last five in Kearney, Neb., with the Storm. In between, he spent the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.

This season, Noreen led the Storm to a 47-11-3-1 record and tied the league record for wins and standings points (98), while compiling the third-highest winning percentage in history at .790. His previous coach of the year awards came after a 40-14-2-4 campaign in 2014-15 in Youngstown and after a 45-12-3-2 season in 2018-19 in Tri-City.

Noreen ranks 11th on the USHL’s career wins list and will move into the top 10 with 17 more victories. He joined Waterloo’s P.K. O’Handley and Cedar Rapids’ Mark Carlson as the only men with three or more coach of the year awards in the Tier I era.

And he’s done it as a high-energy players’ coach.

“Coach Noreen is not just a great coach, he’s an awesome guy and the kind of person you want to have in your life because he’ll do anything for you,” said Gavin Brindley, a forward from Estero, Fla., who played the past two seasons at Tri-City and will skate for the University of Michigan in the fall. 

“He expects a lot of you, but he’s easy-going at the same time. He lets you play your game, as long as you stick to the systems a little bit.”

Noreen, who played NCAA Division III hockey at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, immediately began his coaching career after graduating in 2007. He spent three seasons as an assistant at his alma mater and one as an assistant in Youngstown before earning a promotion on the Phantoms bench in 2011-12. 

“I’ve been very fortunate to have ownership groups, both in Youngstown and here in Tri-City, who share my goal of being known as that team in Junior hockey known for developing players so they’re better suited for the next stage in hockey and in life,” Noreen said. “Not only have we shared that goal, they’ve given me the resources so we can accomplish that goal. If I fail, I don’t want it to be because we cut corners or because we don’t have the resources we need.”

And, of course, those resources have attracted talent on the ice. This season, the Storm featured the USHL’s forward of the year in Jeremy Wilmer, the defenseman and player of the year in Mitchell Miller and the goaltender of the year in Arsenii Sergeev. 

“We’re not concerned about where guys come from or where they’re committed or where they’re ranked or what other people think of them,” Noreen said. “We’ve created a language within our team, and you’re either our type of player or you’re not. If you’re not, that doesn’t mean you’re not a good player or not someone who will have success in our league.

“We’ve just identified the type of players we have success with. It takes a certain level of compete, a certain level of character. You don’t have to be a choir boy, but you have to be the kind of guy your teammates want to go to the rink with and share a fox hole with. Whether it’s your work ethic or your attention to detail or the way you interact with others away from the rink, your attitude is contagious.”

Brindley raved about the culture in the Storm room.

“Honestly, Coach Noreen lets the leaders of the team mold the room, so it’s basically our room,” Brindley said. “He obviously keeps everything in check, but he doesn’t get overly involved. He lets us do our thing, and, because of that, we have probably one of the closest teams in the league.”

Noreen will bring his winning formula to USA Hockey’s entry in the Under-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup from July 31 through Aug. 6 in Red Deer, Alberta. His staff includes USHL veterans Matt Curley (Des Moines), Michael Leone (Green Bay) and Tom Upton (Madison).

Noreen has coached USA Hockey in the World Jr. A Challenge three times, once as an assistant and twice as head coach. 

It’s been a dream of his since childhood, a fact he realized when going through a box of old school projects in his parents’ home roughly five years ago. For a “what do I want to be what I grow up?” assignment in 2nd grade, he drew a picture of himself standing on a bench behind a group of players wearing USA Hockey jerseys.

“It’s the ultimate honor, as a player or as a coach, to be able to wear your country’s flag and represent your country in international play,” said Noreen, whose father coached youth and high school hockey in Chicago. “We watched the Miracle on Ice and the Olympics, and that national pride was engrained in me.

“It’s been a long-time dream to do this. But now it’s time to get to work and make sure we put our best foot forward and represent our country the best way possible.”

 

Jim Leitner is the sports editor of the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald.
Issue: 
2022-07

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