For anyone who’s ever dedicated their time and effort to perfecting a skill for an activity or sport, there’s usually a coach not far away. For 33-year-old coach Noëlle Needham of Sioux Falls, hockey means the world.
“I think the best way to describe it is, I’m absolutely obsessed with it,” Needham said. “It’s just, I think about it all the time, even when I’m supposed to be taking a day off.”
She was a youth hockey player in South Dakota and Minnesota, and played Division I hockey at Minnesota State Mankato. She hit the national level, too.
“I had some experience and some exposure at the national program, it was somewhat difficult,” Needham said. “By the time I was a senior in high school, I had had five major knee surgeries, and then three since college and after, so it just, wasn’t in the cards.”
At age 15 she suffered a bad injury in practice.
“It was a knee-to-knee injury, three days before we were actually leaving to go to the national tournament, which was in Anchorage, Alaska” Needham said.
It wasn’t good. But she wouldn’t quit.
“ACL, MCL, PCL, meniscus, all in one shot, and I was actually fortunate at that time, my doctor was flying up there as well, so I had had surgery to take out the torn meniscus, and then I flew up to Alaska and I ended up playing on it four days later just an effort to show that if I was mentally tough enough and maybe had enough heart that these schools that were interested in me wouldn’t give up on me and kind of believe that I could come back from it,” Needham said.
She has had eight major knee surgeries on her left knee. But she’s still skating, and she’s the head coach of the Sioux Falls Power 16u boys. It’s Roosevelt High School junior Hobie Hedquist’s third year on this team, and he’s committed to playing Division 1 college hockey at Colorado College, and he describes Needham as an “amazing role model.”
“I look up to her in the way that she’s been through a lot,” Hedquist said. “Her career, she had injuries and she battled through and she continued.”
She’s an amateur scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, too.
“She knows what it takes to get the next level,” Hedquist said. “And she’s been through it all.”
Also, yes, this is a boys team, and Needham is a woman. But for Hedquist, that’s not important.
“I don’t think it matters,” Hedquist said. “I feel that she’s a great coach, and I don’t think gender should matter at all, I feel. She knows what she’s talking about, she knows what she’s doing, and she’s been through it all, so I don’t think it matters if she’s a man or a woman.”
“I don’t have any issues with respect or anything like that,” Needham said.
It’s been quite the hockey journey for her.
“A trail of perseverance, and being convicted, and doing what you love and having to wake up in the morning no matter how you feel or what hasn’t gone your way, and hopefully it’s all made me a better person and better role model,” Needham said.
“She’s just an amazing person,” Hedquist said. “She works harder than any person I know, and she’s been an amazing role model to me.”
Dan Santella: Do you think you’re a role model for your players?
“Well, I hope so,” Needham said. “I mean, my job is to give them the best opportunity to succeed and keep them accountable within that framework. So I hope that they all know that despite being tough on them sometimes that it’s, truly, like it is all about them and their journey moving forward.”
And they have a coach who knows all about moving forward, no matter where the journey goes.