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New boss takes charge

Maurice gets Jets moving during up-tempo first practice

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There's an old saying about only getting one chance to make a good first impression.

So, with that now done in spades for Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice in Monday's 5-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes -- a result that helped dial down the angst level considerably in these parts -- the next mission for the new boss has to be much more tangible.

Namely, how does he turn that positive first impression into a lasting one?

"You never really know what to expect when a new coach walks in," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, recalling Maurice's first meeting with the club on Monday. "You haven't really heard him talk, you haven't really seen him in person.

"He was just... I don't know. I guess I can't really give you a good answer as to exactly what it was. I just know that when he started talking he had everyone's eyeballs on him and you could hear a pin drop in our locker-room."

It's true that Maurice still has some introductions to make and can't quite put a name to every face just yet. But maybe that favourable first impression -- the one that had all eyeballs glued on him Monday -- comes simply from the quiet confidence he exudes from working the bench for over 1,000 NHL games; a been-there/done-that vibe.

"That might be what I can't put my finger on," continued Wheeler. "He speaks well, he speaks loud and everything he says is with a purpose. You get that sense from him that there aren't going to be any things that we do that will be done without a purpose.

"Everyone was expecting a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge on his behalf and he's brought that. He's been a leader for us. It's only been a day or so, but he's given us a direction to point towards."

Now, all that might sound cornball, especially for those who see Noel as the victim this week. But the Maurice hire is significant, given the Jets/Thrashers organization has a history over the years of naming head coaches with good resumés, but thin on NHL head-coaching experience. That includes Noel, Craig Ramsay, John Anderson, Bob Hartley all the way back to Curt Fraser, with a couple temporary bench stints from former GM Don Waddell mixed in as well.

And so Maurice's ability to command a room isn't just about how his voices carries, it's about the years behind it -- even if there are some awkward moments where names aren't yet quick to come to the new boss' tongue.

"It was really interesting behind the bench and unusual for me," explained Maurice Tuesday. "Normally, I'll fill out my lineup card and never look at it. You know everybody on your team, you know every name and every number and you know the other team. I had that card in my hand far too much... 'Who was that guy again?' and looking at it."

Parachuted in late Sunday and on the ice with his new squad for the first time during Monday's game-day skate, Maurice had little opportunity to begin enforcing his hockey commandments. That came more during Tuesday's practice at the MTS Iceplex, an up-tempo, fast-paced workout occasionally broken up by on-ice teaching sessions with the troops.

And it wrapped up with several end-to-end laps by the entire squad.

"That wasn't a skate, that was just for fun. Just a couple of laps," said Maurice with a grin. "We just did that for the goaltenders and to watch the goalies go. Everybody enjoys that."

"It was a pretty quick pace and intense, which is good," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd of the team's first practice under its new boss. "It's something we're going to need every day. I think that's going to become pretty common here. We're a fast team and we need to play with pace and use our speed. It translates from practice to games so having that pace in practice makes it an afterthought in a game where you're just going instead of thinking."

In his first few hours on the job Maurice has repeatedly stated he likes the collective size and speed on his new squad and wants to establish more structure, particularly in the defensive zone, for a team still hoping to make a surge for a playoff spot.

The Jets are in Calgary Thursday to face the Flames and, heading into Tuesday night's action in the NHL, are 12th in the Western Conference, 10 points out of the playoffs.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER?

Paul Maurice's debut as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets was a memorable one. Here's a look at the results of the in-season coaching changes in the NHL in the last two seasons:

2013-14

TEAM OLD COACH W-L-T NEW COACH W-L-T
Philly Peter Laviolette 0-3-0 Craig Berube 23-16-4
Florida Kevin Dineen 3-9-4 Peter Horachek 14-12-3
Buffalo Ron Rolston 4-15-1 Ted Nolan 9-11-4
Winnipeg Claude Noel 19-23-5 Paul Maurice 1-0-0

2012-13

TEAM OLD COACH W-L-T NEW COACH W-L-T
Buffalo Lindy Ruff 6-10-1 Ron Rolston 15-11-5
Tampa Bay Guy Boucher 13-17-1 Jon Cooper 4-8-3

 

-- Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2014 0

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 8:18 AM CST: Adds photo, formats stats table

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