Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First, the good news... Paul Maurice loves a challenge

The bad news is he's got a huge one as the Jets' new coach

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At the start of his tenure as the second coach of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0, there's good and bad news about Paul Maurice.

The bad news is the team he takes over still owns the same history and characteristics it had a week or a month ago -- just one playoff appearance in Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise history and in Winnipeg days, only infrequent proficiency at defence.

Highlights from Maurice's first press conference in Winnipeg:

On what goals he has here:

  • "The most important goal is to get on a path to creating a foundation of a game that they understand and that they have faith in playing, that when some adversity happens on the ice, where you go through a stretch like they're going through now, you have an understanding of the game you're supposed to play. And there is a defensive component to it. And there is a battle and compete component to it."

 

On engaging players, to draw out their best:

  • "That may be something I've learned over the past five or six years that I didn't know as well early on, that you have to get to know some of these players. And motivation is different for each player."

 

Being clear on nobody fooling themselves that the Jets (or anybody, for that matter) are better than their record shows:

  • "This team is as good as its record and no team is ever better than its record. Take those numbers and hold them to your heart, because we got what we earned."

 

On one of the most important tasks here, to guide the team to a better defensive game:

  • Maurice said he'll be focused on "sorting some of those things out" in the Jets' own end, between centres and defence in particular.

"You want me to tell you what we're working on first? It's going to be the defensive part of our game.

And, "We need some people that know part of your job is shutting down. And we're going to get working on that in tonight's game."

 

On what his experience coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs for two seasons will do for him in an equally rabid Canadian market in Winnipeg:

  • "I'm aware of the effect of this (media conference) in the locker-room. It's an understanding you can't have until you've worked there. Now I was probably (several) hundred games into the NHL before I took that Leaf job and there were a lot of days in that first two or three months that I... could not believe that. It took me a while to realize that when I say Mats Sundin is not playing well, that's a three-day scrum at his locker.

"I have an appreciation that there's this many (reporters) in your room, but there's not that many stories. I understand the pressure the players are under."

 

On the topic of Dustin Byfuglien, who remained a forward for Monday night's game:

  • "I do truly believe that Dustin Byfuglien can be a very, very big-impact defenceman and positive-impact defenceman, for you people who are writing that down. I also believe he can be a very strong forward. I'm not changing it tonight because I don't want to be flip-flopping all over. I'll look at it, make a decision and then run with it."

The good news is that the coach has shown a penchant for an open mind. He embraced learning and growth. And he says he's not afraid of a challenge.

The 46-year-old native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., put those words into action just more than a year ago when he accepted a job to coach the KHL's Magnitogorsk Metallurg.

The adventure of it, including his 27-13-12 record, goes straight to those points.

"My time in Russia was absolutely spectacular professionally," Maurice said Monday. "The hockey is so much different over there. After two months, (I) thought of every European/Russian player I ever had, I had totally underestimated what those guys went through.

"Not being able to speak the language was one thing. The food is different. Everything is different. More importantly, what we teach and hold as true and valuable is not the same as over there. These young guys come over and you're going to ask as a coach in two weeks for him to change his game? When he's done it for 18 years and been heralded as a great player coming out of Russia?

"And then after the two weeks when it's not done, you get mad at him and don't like him.

"I'm guilty of that."

The story revealed Maurice's discovery.

"The systems are different," he said. "The way they approach the game is different. There's some brilliance over there. Some of the hand skills are absolutely spectacular, how they develop their kids.

"The best part of the learning experience -- how do you teach when you can't communicate? How do you break a concept down to its simplest form to teach it when it's not easy?

"There was enough English over there with some of the European guys, the North American guys, that it was made easier. And the lockout helped.

"It was an absolutely brilliant experience, but the answer (on why he returned home) is I have three kids and a wife.

"They offered me a two-year extension, would have put me in a little different tax bracket. They pay you well over there, but I needed to be with my family. They needed me to be around. But they were happy to send me packing yesterday. I didn't get to the airport late."

Obviously, a few days a week as a TV analyst wasn't enough of a hockey routine for the Maurice clan.

Once the euphoria of being back in the saddle wears off -- there are, after all, just 30 NHL coaching jobs -- the hard work (see bad news above) will begin.

And that's where all of the lessons and growth will be required in Winnipeg.

Are you a patient man? Maurice was asked.

"When I need to be," he said. "Reasonably. I think there's a time for patience and there's a time for action. It's a funny word in hockey because we used it already once today.

"We need to become a more patient hockey club, but that has nothing to do with passivity.

"We need to be very aggressive, but patient in the understanding and confidence that we will play this way and play one way regardless of the adversity and have the confidence, then, that we'll have success doing that.

"We need some patience in our game."

Patience -- that's probably not what fans in a hurry for change want to hear at this stage of the mess. But trying to sort out the roads to bad and good news, the coach has at least started out by dealing straight and limiting promises.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2014 C3

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 8:30 AM CST: Formats fact box, adds video

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