Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said he once marveled at how quickly and easily Paul Maurice could mentally process things as a coach.
“Watching him I said many times I didn’t think I could ever coach, because he’s too smart,” Brind’Amour said Thursday. “I thought if every coach was like that I had no shot doing this job.”
That was when Maurice was coaching the Canes — twice, in fact. Maurice took the Canes to the 2002 Stanley Cup final and later returned to lead them into the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, both times with Brind’Amour shouldering big loads as a workhorse center.
The Canes have not been back since 2009, but Brind’Amour has them in the thick of things in his first year as head coach. Which in turn, doesn’t surprise Maurice, who has made the Winnipeg Jets one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
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“There are a lot of players who have a passion for the game and a love for the game, which I think is the foundation of that decision,” Maurice said. “There’s lots of guys who love the game but don’t want to coach but Rod was always ... wired right into the game and all parts of it and would do whatever he could to get better. It was the primary focus of his life.
“You need to have that to get up when coaches do, to spend as much time and working and watching video and paying attention to the game. You need to have that driver and he always had it. He came on our staff way back when, and fairly early on I thought he enjoyed it and that’s a key piece. You can have a passion for the game but you’re also going to have to love the lack of sleep and all the other things that go with it and he did.
“Once you get the hook or the bug, or whatever you want to call it, you’re in.”
Maurice was winding down Thursday afternoon after the Jets practiced at PNC Arena. They’re coming off a loss at Tampa Bay and eager to get back on the ice, back to winning Friday when they face the Canes.
Told of Brind’Amour’s “too smart” comments, Maurice smiled.
“That’s awful kind,” he said. “You’ve heard Roddy speak, right? He’s a pretty bright guy. He might be selling that simplicity a little too hard. I think he’s a very, very intelligent guy.”
Maurice said that Brind’Amour, like most players in the league, might have considered the coaches more a “necessary evil.” But that changes once behind the bench, once in the coaches room, he said.
“They don’t realize the time that goes in or the detail that the game is processed at the coaches’ level and the decisions on what to tell the players,” Maurice said. “I think anyone who goes from playing to coaching would have a different respect.”
Brind’Amour has that respect. He often has said he has gleaned so much from all of his former coaches and others in the coaching profession.
The Canes’ schedule has them playing the Jets on Friday and then a road game against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. That means another game against Preds coach Peter Laviolette, who made all the right coaching moves for Carolina in 2006 in the Canes’ run to the Stanley Cup and was a big influence on all around him.
“He was very demanding but he did it in a positive manner,” Canes captain Justin Williams, a member of the 2006 champions, said Thursday. “He kind of willed you to be better and be great.”
Williams said he sees a lot of Laviolette in Brind’Amour’s style as a head coach, saying he has taken the “positivity aspect” from Laviolette and the ability to say only what is needed.
Maurice and Laviolette now are two hurdles in the Canes’ path to the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome Friday, Maurice said he would like to see playoff hockey return to Raleigh and the Triangle.
“It’s a passionate market,” he said. “It’s a different market in that maybe not the whole city in March is wired on hockey but the fans that come love this game and it’s good to see it back.
“They had a pretty exciting almost 10-year run of playoff hockey and then for a 10-year run it kind of disappeared on them, and now it looks like it’s back. They’ve had a good, young team for a while but they’re starting to turn the corner. ... They’ve paid for it, they’ve built it right.”