Maurice will push players to maximum

Hopes team's leaders will be a driving force of change

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PENTICTON, B.C. -- He is armed with a new four-year contract and probably has maximum clout to rule over the Winnipeg Jets when training camp begins on Thursday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/09/2014 (2998 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PENTICTON, B.C. — He is armed with a new four-year contract and probably has maximum clout to rule over the Winnipeg Jets when training camp begins on Thursday.

But Paul Maurice said Sunday it will not be him driving the desired transformation of a team that has not seen the Stanley Cup playoffs for seven years running — even though he has promised the most difficult of training camps.

“In terms of how our camp is going to be, I’m hoping the leadership makes it really, really hard because they drive it,” said Maurice, here at the Canucks Young Stars Classic tournament to watch the Jets’ prospects for two games. “The coach can scream. Anybody can get through a practice. But to do it day after day, that’s driven by your leaders.

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press Files Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice will not spare the lash during training camp. His players will be fit.

“They will set that internal pace and that’s far more important than a coach who’s screaming. It’ll be the level of push and compete by your veteran guys.”

You will recall that before he had completed his deal to stay on as the reborn Jets’ second head coach, he put the team through their longest practice of the season in the final week of the regular campaign.

It was one hour 40 minutes long and 50 of those minutes were a bag skate without any pucks.

The timing and the method was unusual for an NHL team today, but Maurice also came with a message — that a drive for fitness is what to expect next fall.

“I think you’ll find that two or three days doesn’t make a tough camp,” Maurice said Sunday. “A couple of bag skates doesn’t make a hard camp. By Day 5 or 6, the players have to take over the training camp. The leadership has to push it.”

The physical and fitness aspects are the areas Maurice identified over his three months coaching the team. He took over mid-season, on Jan. 12, and posted an 18-12-5 mark, though the Jets missed the playoffs by seven points.

He clarified Sunday the difficult camp that’s coming is not revenge and it’s not punishment.

“Training camp will be as hard as the players make it,” he said. “It’s the only chance that we get all year to push harder. There’s no negative consequences to a hard practice because the exhibition games don’t count for our leaders.

“And we’re never getting the chance to have hard skates, do the conditioning work. It’s not the be-all end-all. But it’s a real piece.

“And for us, it’s an area we can improve. We need a good, hard look at each component in our group of things that make up our team and fitness is one of them.”

Maurice will have some limitations as to how hard he can push the Jets starting next week.

The CBA mandates the team can only work three hours per day, and only 1:45 of that on the ice. And there must be two full days off during camp, all of which are mixed in with seven pre-season games.

“But we’ll work hard straight through, though,” he promised.

One of the goals of this push for fitness is psychological in nature, Maurice said.

“I remember who I would consider one of the most respected coaches in the NHL — I won’t use his name because he didn’t give me permission to tell this story — but I was talking to him during training camp and he was in his second year with his new team, and this is a Stanley Cup champion I’m talking about. He said the first year everybody complained about, ‘How much I skated them,’ ” Maurice explained. “And he had some veteran guys.

“And the next year, ‘Everybody asked me why I didn’t skate the team as hard.’ And his answer was that he had skated them harder, but they just didn’t see it anymore.

“Don’t get me wrong, this whole training camp is about being prepared for Day 1. So we want to have a hard camp because that’s our time to have a hard camp. That’s our time to push.

“This isn’t punitive for not making the playoffs. This is not me trying to make sure everybody knows I’m going to push my hockey team hard. You come out to practice every day and you can decide. The whole point is to maximize the talent we have to get better, and part of that is we have to push ourselves as hard as we can.

“I’m not saying our team is way, way off. It’s just an area we can improve.”

Near the end of last season, Maurice said he believes the total transformation in this area takes at least two years.

Why so long?

“It’s because you’re learning, you’re learning how to train better,” he said. “I can show a player a video of Blake Wheeler skating and say, ‘I’m going to make you skate like Blake Wheeler, but it’s going to take you a while.’

“And that’s why Craig (Slaunwhite, the team’s new director of fitness) is here. That’s not what I do for a living, but it’s what he does. That’s to show them and teach them, and it takes years.

“To get them to a point where they’re not afraid of it because they know they’ve done the work.”

Maurice has been out of the spotlight for several months over the summer, including getting moved to Winnipeg.

Has his off-season reflection on his introduction to the Jets led to any revelations or discoveries?

“I really enjoyed the experience on a personal level. I liked everything about the experience, and I feel the same way about the players,” he said.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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