Paul Maurice comes back to Raleigh as Winnipeg coach

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 3, 2014 

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Former Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice watches the action during an November 2011 game against the Buffalo Sabres at the RBC Center in Raleigh.

CHRIS SEWARD — CHRIS SEWARD - cseward@newsobserver.com

— Paul Maurice was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes, spent a year coaching in Russia, did some TV work and wondered what the future might hold.

And then, he was back in the NHL.

Maurice was hired Jan. 12 by the Winnipeg Jets and was given the tag “interim head coach” and the task of turning around a team gone awry. All he has done since then is go 8-2 in 10 games with the Jets, giving the team some life and its fans some hope.

“He’s an intense guy, and he brings that intensity and energy to every game that we play,” Jets forward Bryan Little said Monday.

Maurice was in familiar surroundings Monday – at PNC Arena. The Jets put in a practice in a building Maurice literally saw rise from a big hole in the ground in the late 1990s.

The Jets face the Hurricanes on Tuesday at PNC Arena, and being behind the visitors bench won’t be new for Maurice. He once did it with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team he coached between his two stints with the Canes.

Maurice, 47, moved with the franchise from Hartford, Conn., to Raleigh in 1997. He guided the Canes to the 2002 Stanley Cup final and says the noise level during Game 3 – the first in PNC Arena – was the loudest he’s ever heard in any hockey game.

Maurice was brought back to Carolina in early December 2008, when the Canes lost patience with Peter Laviolette, firing the coach who won a Stanley Cup in 2006. Maurice took over a struggling team and helped it reach the Eastern Conference finals, but would lose his job in late-November 2011 when the Hurricanes hired Kirk Muller.

Asked whether he had any regrets about his days with Carolina, Maurice quickly replied, “Not one.”

He then paused for a second, as if reconsidering.

“No, not one,” he said. “There are no negatives from my time there. I really care about that franchise, about the people, about the city.

“It was time for me to go, and off I went. And now I have a new challenge, a new start.”

While Maurice had his detractors in his 920 games coaching the Canes, few can deny he also had a hand in the franchise establishing a foothold in the community. He was the coach when the team played the first two years in Greensboro, patiently waiting and watching as the steel girders and infrastructure of the new arena were put in place.

Maurice said the success of the franchise, on and off the ice, will always be a source of pride for him.

“This is such a good franchise and probably doesn’t get noted for that as much as it should,” he said. “When we first started there was nothing. Every once in a while you’d see a little Hurricane flag and you weren’t sure if they were sold out of N.C. State flags or liked the red.

“It’s almost a model franchise for the nontraditional market. You always had that sense that there was a connection between the fans and the players, more so than other places and very much like Winnipeg. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of questions at the time about, would this franchise succeed?”

When a team raises a Stanley Cup banner, gets to the Stanley Cup final in another year and then reaches the conference finals, those questions usually have been answered.

“Put it in basketball terms,” Maurice said. “If one of these teams had won the NCAA championship, lost the NCAA final game and made it to the Final Four in a 10-year period, it would be a powerhouse. They’d be talking about a dynasty and maybe change the name to the ‘Laviolette Center.’

“So, a tremendous amount of pride, because it wasn’t easy to do.”

After leaving the Canes in 2011, Maurice later spent a year in Russia coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. He returned and served as analyst at TSN and the NHL Network, which enabled him to see more NHL games and analyze personnel. To prepare for the next coaching opportunity, if it came. It did, in Winnipeg.

“I absolutely enjoy it, all of it,” Maurice said. “I appreciate it more, coaching in the best league in the world.

“I’d like to think I’m a better coach, that coaching in the KHL helped me. I could not communicate with any of the players there because of the language barrier. It made me realize I needed to do more of it, that I was too guarded. I think I communicate much better.”

Little called Maurice a teacher, saying the coach is always talking, instructing. He’s not an in-your-face screamer, Little said, but more someone looking to help.

“I’m happy to see him back in the league,” Canes captain Eric Staal said. “I think he’s an underrated coach and he’s a good hockey mind and someone I think will do well.

“He’s good at reading situations and knowing how to fix problems and how to lead. That’s what you want from a coach.”

Certainly what the Jets wanted.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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