(This article was originally published on Dec. 29, 2020.)
Wherever Kevin Noble played, winning wasn’t too far behind.
The stalwart blueliner is best known for his time with the Nanaimo Clippers. However, he began his BCHL sojourn as a black ace for the Vernon Vipers who fell to the Surrey Eagles in the 2004 Fred Page Cup Final.
He spent the 2004-05 season with the Creston Valley Thundercats of the Kootenay InternationalJunior Hockey League where he amassed 33 points and 225 penalty minutes.
The following season, Noble found himself playing for esteemed head coach Jim Hiller with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
On a team that featured Maury Edwards and Bert Watkins on the back end, along with a stellar forward group which included Jordan Kreymyr, Andrew Estey, and Tyler Ruel, quality ice time was hard to come by as a rookie.
“I think we were at ten consecutive weeks as the number one team in Canada and I wasn’t really a big part of that team. As a young guy, you don’t really get as much playing (time) at 17 or 18 in the BCHL.”
“Playing for Jim, it was a culture that he had been there for a few years and had a lot of guys that he had recruited and molded this team into a contender and I sort of came in at the very end when all the bits and pieces were in places,” Noble explained.
“I didn’t play much, but you get a chance to be in a culture that was turned into a winning environment and you get to learn how to win. It prepared me to go to Nanaimo and know the expectations of success in those glory days.”
During the summer of 2006, Noble was traded by the Bulldogs to northern BC to cut his teeth with the now-defunct Quesnel Millionaires, where he posted 26 points in 42 games during the first half of the 2006-07 campaign.
The Sparwood, BC product also didn’t take any prisoners, receiving 111 penalty minutes.
“I made some great friends there and I have a soft spot for Quesnel to this day. I still stay in touch with my billet family and the community was really generous and warm and accepting of all the players that came through there.”
“Even though we were not the pillar of BCHL franchises based on location and it has hard to draw a lot of players to get to Quesnel, and you don’t get seen as much as you would in other places like Penticton or Nanaimo, it was what I needed to do to develop.”
“Obviously, a lot of people would agree it’s not the most desirable place to go but for me, it was a great opportunity that I needed to prove I was a guy that could (play) at the junior level. I played there until the trade deadline when Bill Bestwick traded for me in Nanaimo and the rest – as they say – is history.”
Back to Vancouver Island
“You walk in, and up to that point you are a guy who has put up numbers in the league and proven myself, but I felt a little awe-struck in a sense because it is a team that has the most scholarships. It has the most NHL draft picks at that time and was sort of a hockey hotbed for junior A across Canada.”
“It’s almost surreal because you are playing with your equals, but at the same time, you feel like one weekend ago you played against them and they were your enemies. (They were) everything you didn’t like and now you are part of the pirate ship,” added Noble.
To finish the regular season, the rearguard tallied 10 points in 19 games before heading into what would be another memorable playoff run.
The Clippers finished the regular season with a record of 41-12-2-5 and eased past the Surrey Eagles in the elimination round of the postseason.
However, Nanaimo found itself in a tight second-round matchup against the Burnaby Express. It went seven games followed by a hard-fought six-game set against Cowichan.
Noble and the Clippers became league champs and dispatched the powerhouse Vernon Vipers in six games, a memory that still sticks to this day.
“I remember being paired with Irwin that year and the year after. It just felt automatic that you slid the puck over to a future NHLer and there was a one-timer and (it’s) in the net. But our depth in that run led to all guys contributing, even if the top line wasn’t going. I would say that our third line was like a number one line on other teams.”
“I remember guys playing through separated shoulders, dislocated shoulders getting frozen, and our captain Taylor Langford battling every night. You remember the games like the double-overtime win against Vernon.”
“(There was) game six in Vernon where it was tied and I set up Tyler Mazzei with 50 seconds left on the back-door and we went up 3-2 and won the title that night. When you are part of playoff runs like that, the memories give you chills down your spine even talking about it because you realize just how hard it is to win.”
Nanaimo advanced to the Doyle Cup where it was bested in five games by the Alberta champion Camrose Kodiaks.
During 2007-08, Noble enjoyed a career year with 42 points in 59 games with the Clippers, who were primed to repeat as Fred Page Cup champions.
However, those plans were foiled, and they lost to the Penticton Vees who swept Bestwick’s bunch in four games.
“They were hungry for their first title and our six 20-year-olds that year were sort of carrying more of the mail. Maybe we were not as deep the year we won, and I think we had too many guys (with lengthy) playoff runs under their belt to really find the gas.”
Landing with the Lakers
After wrapping up his junior days, Noble found himself with the NCAA’s Merychurt Lakers in Erie Pennsylvania.
Right out of the gate, the Lakers enjoyed success during the 2008-09 season where they went 17-8-3 in the regular season only to falter to their arch-nemesis Air Force 2-0 in the finals.
“Air Force was so good during my time at Mercyhurst that we just couldn’t get past them. Going to a place where I played right away, a lot of kids don’t get that opportunity.”
“I was able to earn the respect of the coaching staff and I remember being heartbroken in that final not being able to get by them (Air Force). After the game, (you are) just thinking about the success you had in Nanaimo and realizing how hard it was to get to the mountain top and be a champion. (Then) you really appreciate the championship we did get because you see how hard it was to do.”
After a pair of years toiling at or above the .500 mark, Noble captained the Lakers to a 15-8-4 mark during 2012-13, totaling 20 points in 40 games only to fall to Air Force once again – this time a 5-2 decision in the semis.
“We always had solid teams. I think we underachieved in my middle years, which was unfortunate. Being a small school, it probably wasn’t the same experience others had in the Big 10 conference and such, but you are a polarizing figure on campus. We were the only Division I sport while all of our other programs were Division II.”
“As a smaller school, the atmosphere wasn’t as great as it was in Nanaimo. We were kind of spoiled that way in those days. In college, it was an OK environment, but it was somewhat underwhelming from where I came from, to be honest.”
“I remember as a school when we played out of the conference, we would go to Wisconsin and Minnesota, we always had that underdog mentality that you weren’t expected to win so you had nothing to lose. Those were the games I looked forward to as a player because you are playing against some big-time prospects.”
In Part 2 of Clippers Confidential with Kevin Noble, I look at his career after the NCAA, one that took him to a place not known for being a hockey hotbed.