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Four Mo years

Chevy signs bench boss to extension, says 'he's the fit for our organization'

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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 Wednesday with the NHL team.

"Somewhere between Day 1 and the last day," Maurice told a conference call with reporters Wednesday 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."

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff felt so strongly about a future with Maurice that no one else was considered. And that includes ex-Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, a Manitoban.

"Extremely respected individual, know (Trotz) very well," said Cheveldayoff. "He's a wonderful guy and again, what he's accomplished in the league is something that's astounding.

"The thought process of Paul Maurice was that for us, he's the right guy. He's the fit for our organization. He knows the organization in and out. He's had the opportunity to say no. He knows there's going to be opportunities out there. His enthusiasm and his excitement and his genuine feel for this group is certainly something that pushed us.

"I hear rumours about guys getting fired. That's the sad part about the game. Some of them never come true. We wish Barry all the best but we're extremely excited about Paul Maurice as our coach."

At his end-of-season press conference Wednesday, where he led with Maurice's retention, Cheveldayoff called the Jets' coach, "an impressive hockey coach. An impressive person as well."

Maurice, who went 18-12-5 after taking over on Jan. 12, said the longer he got into his role as mid-season replacement, the easier it became to want to continue.

He was true to his word, discussing it with his family on Tuesday when he returned to their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"I had actually made the promise to the family that we were doing this at the kitchen table and I had said this enough times in the media that I couldn't now do this by phone," he said. "I got on a plane yesterday, Kevin and I quickly agreed to what's fair to both sides, that took no time at all. I got home, and that took about three minutes, too, said I wanted to go to Winnipeg and wanted the family to be part of it and they all smiled and said, 'Let's go.' So I called Kevin and said we're in and put a (for-sale) sign on the front steps today."

He said he briefly considered looking around.

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

The team's late-season meltdown -- it was tied for the final playoff spot on March 1 but ended seven points behind eighth-place Dallas -- did not discourage Maurice.

"We're trying to move to the middle of the pack," he said. "The end goal here is to be a contending team and I think there are six of those right now in the Western Conference.

He said he hopes to impose structure into the team.

He also said he had other urgent priorities but wouldn't share them, though generally, he has sees three or four statistical areas the team must improve.

"Goals against is one of them," he said. "So is overall defensive play.

"When we're finished... you'll say we're an incredibly hard forechecking team and very aggressive."

The 47-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who has now coached 1,119 NHL games, also pointed to a key moment in deciding what he was trying to do with the Jets was worth his time, and that was veteran defenceman Mark Stuart's contract extension in March.

"Completely critical," Maurice said. "That was a big one for me. You couldn't afford to have key pieces like Mark say they wanted to play somewhere else. Those guys have to be invested in the team. That was a really, really big one.

"The play of those other veterans, Blake Wheeler's play. And we squeezed these guys, really pushed them, the leaders and some of the veterans towards the end and every time we did, they really responded."

With the new contract, the Jets won't have to pay what was essentially agreed to as a "break fee," if Maurice didn't stay beyond April.

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2014 D1

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