German suplex 1/2
"When I watch the World Juniors right now, I'm not feeling very comfortable talking about Germany," joked Noebels, who was on last year's German team.
This season, the 20-year-old forward has turned pro and his countrymen have been outscored 26-4 in four World Junior Hockey Championships tournament losses. At least Noebels has a sense of humor about the string of results.
Joking aside, Noebels said the sport is growing in his home country -- and that's undoubtedly helped by the National Hockey League lockout, as NHL stars are now playing in Germany's top pro league.
"I think it's getting better and better," Noebels said. "We have outdoor games too this year. We have a huge game in Nuremberg. It's a soccer stadium, it's over 70,000 or 80,000 (capacity) I think. ... We have a good league. (Philadelphia Flyers Danny) Briere and (Claude) Giroux are playing in Germany. I think that says a lot. A couple other guys. It's getting better and more popular all the time."
The Philadelphia Flyers organization has also seen Noebels improve markedly since he was assigned to the ECHL Trenton Titans at the start of the season, which is why they assigned the rookie to the Phantoms on Tuesday. He is expected to make his AHL debut against Connecticut this weekend.
“The opinion on him is very, very positive,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “The views that everybody’s had on him in Trenton are positive. He’s playing well, he’s putting up points. He’s going to get a look. It’s an opportunity for him to come and play. I’ll get him in to a lot of situations where he can keep his game going. Hopefully we see the improvement keep going in his game.”
Noebels obviously brings some offense to the table -- he was a point-per-game player in his final season of junior hockey, then led all ECHL rookies in scoring through Dec. 31 of this season -- but the Phantoms and Flyers have been really impressed with improvements in his two-way play.
"His game has come together pretty well," Murray said. "He’s playing in all situations, he’s putting points up. He’s a big kid (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) who is getting stronger from day one of the training camp and feeling more comfortable in his body out there. ... He’s got some nice skills.”
He's shown flashes of those skills all season, like when he scored his first professional goal back in October. He took a stretch pass from former Phantom Andy Bohmbach, skated in on countryman and his friend Phillip Grubauer, and beat the Reading Royals goalie with a crafty backhander.
Noebels will remember that forever, but he probably will not soon let Grubauer forget it either.
“We talked a lot and we hang out in the summer too,” Noebels said. “That was special for me.”
More on Noebels in the paper tomorrow, including his reaction to earning his first AHL call-up. He was disappointed to begin the season in the ECHL, but used the whole thing as a learning experience.
Speaking of those, Philadelphia assigned winger Shane Harper to Trenton on Wednesday. The third-year pro had scored just three goals in 23 games and had been relegated to fourth-line duty or being a healthy scratch as of late. Murray said it's a chance for Harper to get his game in order.
"He's a player who can bring offense, he can score goals," Murray said. "I'm aware of his resume from last year (27 points in 70 games). He has not been able to break in there on a regular basis in a top-six situation where in my opinion he should be. Sometimes it's an individual confidence that is lacking. In and out of the lineup and it's hard to get your game on track. He'll get into a situation now where he can play a lot. Play important situations and all situations. I think that's important for a skilled player and scoring player to be able to recover that confidence and get himself going."
Unfortunate timing for Harper. The Phantoms are in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton next Saturday, and Harper has a lot of family in that area. That would have made for a nice homecoming. Instead, the storyline may well be Scott Munroe squaring off against his former teammates.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves, as there are two games against the Whale this weekend.
"Right now, to me, it's a critical time," Murray said. "We've got two games against Connecticut, then we've got a week of practice and then we've got three-in-three. It's a critical time in the schedule for us. I think we can push ourselves up pretty quickly with some good hockey."
(Ed. note -- I think Murray may have confused the Binghamton/Wilkes-Barre weekend (Jan. 11-12 with the Albany/Worcester/Atlantic City weekend (Jan. 18-20). Still, an important two-week stretch.)
Right now, they're at 13-16-1-1. Is that record indicative of the team's play this season?
"I look back over 31 games -- I had a team meeting this morning -- I'm looking at maybe a handful of games only where you come away at the end of the day and say 'We need to be a whole lot better,'" Murray said. "We've done a pretty good job in all of the games that we've played with those few exceptions. The thing that's real hard as we talked about many days ago, months ago is that having a lead at the end of the first period. That's been a bit of an issue for us. We're aware of it."
More on the weekend tomorrow. Munroe actually has a pretty interesting history with the Whale.
Personnel: Erik Gustafsson returned to practice after missing seven games with an ankle injury and skated for about 30 minutes before heading back to the locker room. Matt Konan left practice early after colliding hard with the end boards, but he and Murray said Konan was fine. Sean Couturier had a maintenance day, but Murray said he'll be on the ice tomorrow. Also: "Don't ask me about (defenseman Marc-Andre) Bourdon because I don't know anything." So nothing has changed there.
Until next time,