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Maurice returning to coach NHL's Jets

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Paul Maurice said it didn’t take him long after he joined the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 12 to know he wanted to coach the team long-term.

Claude Noel’s replacement agreed to a new four-year deal today with the NHL team.

"Somewhere between Day 1 and the last day," Maurice told a conference call with reporters this afternoon. "When things started to wobble a little bit, it was the way the players responded to being pushed a little bit (that convinced me).

"I made sure I was comfortable there, that I could be part of the solution and work with the players and staff, so it was fairly early on."

Maurice guided the team from 10 points out of the playoffs when he took over to tied with the eighth-place Dallas Stars on March 1. The team then faded — as it often has — in March, posting its worst month of the season at 4-7-4. All of that left Maurice with a personal mark of 18-12-5.

The Jets finished 84 points, seven fewer than eighth-place Dallas.

The new deal didn’t take long.

After saying from the start his family would have its chance to approve a longer term — he agreed to a deal only for the end of the 2013-14 regular season — Maurice got a quick green light.

"I know what I’ve been saying from the beginning (so I figured) I can’t now do this by phone so I got on a plane (to Columbus, Ohio) yesterday. Kevin and I agreed to what was fair and that took no time at all.

"They (his family) all smiled and said, ‘Let’s go.’ So I called Kevin back and said we’re all in."

Maurice said today that there was one event during the season’s back half that might have been more key than others.

It was the players adopting his vision, especially veteran defenceman Mark Stuart, who signed a four-year contract extension.

"Completely critical," Maurice said. "That was a key for me. Those guys have to be invested in the team. The play of those other veteran guys, like Blake Wheeler’s play... we squeezed some of the veterans and every time, they responded."

Maurice said it didn’t take him long to decide the Winnipeg job was the best fit.

"I looked around," he said. "You try to find the best place but in my mind, not another place was like this. This was the team I wanted to coach."

The coach identified the No. 1 need for the team in the future — structure.

He also said he had other urgent priorities but wouldn’t share them all.

"There are three or four statistical areas we have to improve," he said. "Goals against is one of them. So is overall defensive play.

"When we’re finished... you’ll say we’re an incredibly hard forechecking team."

Cheveldayoff said at a press conference earlier today that the deal with his new coach was easy and didn’t take long.

"We got right into negotiations and quite honestly, it really didn’t take that long," he said. "It was a pleasure to have discussions about the future and to see his excitement."

Cheveldayoff called Maurice, "an impressive hockey coach. An impressive person as well."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 10:23 AM CDT: Updates with Cheveldayoff quotes.

12:32 PM: Adds video.

1:09 PM: Replaces photo

3:07 PM: Writethru.

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