Regrets? Maurice has a few but did it his way
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
There were plenty of confusing turns Tuesday as Paul Maurice returned to Canada Life Centre for the first time since he walked out on the Winnipeg Jets nearly a year ago.
“I completely forgot the layout,” he joked, referring to the part of the downtown rink reserved for visiting teams. “So, I’ve been in the wrong door a bunch of times.”
An understandable mistake, for sure. But hardly the biggest one of the day the current head coach of the Florida Panthers confessed to. When asked if he had any regrets about pulling the chute in the middle of the 2021-22 NHL season, the 55-year-old veteran bench boss dropped a bit of a bombshell.
“I’d have got off the bench in the summer prior,” Maurice admitted. “To be honest, if I was going to go do something different, it would be that.”
In other words, he overstayed his welcome, to the point it became a major distraction and overshadowed everything else that happened during what would become a lost campaign. And only Maurice walking the plank — rather than being pushed overboard by True North management and ownership — brought about long-overdue changes.
“I was in a very unique position to see it. I could see it in the summer,” Maurice said of essentially hitting the wall with this organization. “You run eight, nine years, and we’d gone from winning a playoff game to banging out 114 points (in 2017-18) and you’ve kind of hit that crest, and then it was time.”
When he announced his surprise resignation Dec. 17 with his team at 13-10-5. Maurice insisted the Jets needed a new voice as his message had essentially gone stale. Assistant-coach Dave Lowry, father of centre Adam Lowry, would be pulled into that difficult role on an interim basis for the remainder of the disjointed year, with similar mediocre results (26-22-6).
Now, with Rick Bowness at the helm and the Jets off to a stellar 15-7-1 start prior to facing the Panthers, it would appear Maurice was right.
“Real good team in Winnipeg. Playing well. Had a little bit of adversity, but handled it really well,” Maurice said.
“I think there were probably two or three names (goods fit to coach the Jets). And Rick would be one of them. Someone that does a really good job at getting down to the, pardon the pun, the bones of it. To get to the structure of it, the skeleton of fixing some basic things and getting a real simple kind of mindset in all three zones. Real consistent game.”
There’s been plenty of talk from Jets players about a stark difference between last year and this one, with more accountability and structure. Scheifele said it again on Tuesday when asked for his thoughts on the Maurice versus Bowness regimes.
“This year has been completely different. It’s a whole new perspective on things,” said Scheifele.
“(Bowness) and his staff have done a great job at challenging this team and pushing us to our max and that’s what every guy wanted here, was to be pushed and challenged and helped and coached. Bones has done a fantastic job with that and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve only had that perspective for 20 games now and we have so much more to learn and so much more knowledge to be given. That’s exciting for all of us.”
Does Maurice see comments such as that as an indictment of the type of shop he ran?
“They needed a change, they needed a new voice, they got it, they’re playing well. I’m happy for them.”–Paul Maurice
“No, I think that’s what happens when you come out of Canada. I think that’s fairly ubiquitous in each market when there’s a coaching change. And that’s what happened,” he said. “So it’s good for them. They needed a change, they needed a new voice, they got it, they’re playing well. I’m happy for them.”
Bowness’ first big move was removing the captaincy from Blake Wheeler, a player Maurice had a strong personal relationship with. The development wasn’t as big of a shock to him as it might have been to others.
“Blake and I had talked, from the day that he became captain, that at 35 we would discuss if it was time for him to come off. And that was no genius on my part. Ronnie Francis (his former captain in Carolina) told me that,” said Maurice.
“He says right around 35, 36, you need a different captain. Because you stop connecting with the 21, 22, 23 year olds in the same way. You need somebody younger to kind of come in and take over that role. I’m sure there were lots of conversations that went on about what was the right thing to do and clearly Blake doesn’t look his age. He’s playing exceptionally well and it’s been great for him. It’s been great for the team. It all went right.”
It hasn’t all gone right for Panthers, who have gone from winning the Presidents Trophy last year as top regular-season club to a rather ho-hum 12-9-4 this year (prior to facing the Jets) and currently below the Eastern Conference playoff line. A big part of that has been a string of injuries to key players.
“I was aware of what this year was going to look like for them,” said Maurice, who brought Jets associate coach Jamie Kompon with him to Florida.
“I thought that I could handle that for them, that there would be a variable from 122 (points), we’re not getting 122 this year. But all of their pieces are not that far off. They had a good year, they’ve struggled a little bit maybe kind of getting to that next level, but I think the best hockey for this franchise is ahead of them.”
Despite the obvious storyline surrounding them, the Jets were seemingly trying to downplay this as just another game.
“Listen, Paul is an excellent coach and he had a great run here. So, you give him full marks for that. And he’s doing a great job with Florida, so give him full marks for that,” said Bowness.
“But for me, I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it every day, I keep the focus on our team and how we want to play, regardless of who is coming in. That’s noise, outside of the game. If you start letting all of that noise distract you, it affects the way you play.”
Not so with Maurice, who admitted returning to a city that meant so much was bringing back plenty of emotions.
“It’s a big part of your life. You invest so much into it and you don’t separate the personal and the professional because they always come together, right?” said Maurice, whose daughter lives and works in Winnipeg as a teacher.
“My kids came here at a young age and they became who they are in Winnipeg. So there’s a connection there. I get to meet a few people while I’m here. We’re not long enough to see all the people you care for or you’d like to but for sure, right? And I haven’t seen the players, haven’t run into any of them really over time. I talked to them occasionally, briefly, early on in the summertime, but it’ll be different for sure.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.