Maurice rediscovers the passion for hockey as the coach of the Panthers

“What was I doing around this time last year? Honestly, I have to tell you, I had the best four days of fishing of my life,” he said with a laugh on Friday.

My God, what a difference a year made for the 56-year-old.

Today, the zeal, the dynamism, the motivation are back. Hired by the Florida Panthers as a coach on June 22, 2022, his team holds a 2-0 lead in the best of 7 Eastern Conference second round against the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of Game 3 at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Fla., on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET; TBS, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“That might be an overly simplistic answer, but it’s true,” he told “I had lost my love of the game. And it was affecting me. And I had it back.

“It’s been a tough year for everything we’ve been through. But at the same time, it’s been fun for me.”

It was an emotional journey home, that’s for sure.

On December 17, 2021, Maurice shockingly announced that he was stepping down as coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was his 24th season as an NHL coach and his ninth with Winnipeg, and he was just exhausted.

He didn’t know if he would be back in the hockey world. Frankly, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Sports were sometimes the furthest thing from his mind, especially when the walleye was biting.

Then all that changed.

Maurice was driving to Winnipeg from his cabin on Lake of the Woods in northern Ontario in early June when he received a call from Panthers general manager Bill Zito. Florida hired Maurice, even though he had not actively promoted himself for another job.

[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Panthers coverage]

There were growing pains at first. But right now, they seem so far away.

The Panthers finished 42-32-8, were the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs, and pulled off a stunning seven-game upset in the first round against the Boston Bruins, winners of the Presidents Trophy. They now have the upper hand over the Maple Leafs and are two wins away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.

Maurice ranks sixth in NHL history with 817 wins and fourth in games steered with 1,767 behind Scotty Bowman (2,141), Barry Trotz (1,812) and Joel Quenneville (1,768). He is 817-712-138 with 99 ties in 25 seasons with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Jets and Panthers.

He is 47-54 in 101 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including coaching the Hurricanes until the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost in five games to the Detroit Red Wings.

In an extensive interview with, Maurice explained why Florida was a good fit for him, the reasons for his playoff success and the impact center Sam Bennett and forward Matthew Tkachuk have had this season.

First of all, what made you quit your life as a recreational fisherman and get back into the game?

“It’s funny how life works. It was the very beginning of June. Everything was perfect. I really didn’t lack anything. I didn’t aspire to anything. By the time I had taken a step back. C It was easy for me. I didn’t see a fit. I wasn’t interested. I’m fine. And then Panthers general manager Bill Zito called. And he said, ‘I’m just see what interests you. And I said, ‘I’m interested in the Florida Panthers.'”

Why the Panthers?

“There’s a story there, but really it was just a conversation. There were people I knew in the organization. Bryan McCabe is there (as director of player personnel). I had a great relationship when I was coaching the Leafs and Bryan was there (as a defenseman in 2006-08). I really enjoyed being with him. He does a great job, as does Roberto Luongo (special adviser to the GM). Tuomo Ruutu (assistant) is on the staff, he played for me in Carolina. . I had all these connections in Florida that I almost forgot. It was like, ‘Oh, this guy is here .’ But at the end of the day, Bill Zito has the natural ability to interest you. Not as a salesman. It’s a very natural thing for him. He has a passion for the game and for life that is contagious.

Do people on the outside really understand how exhausted you were when you left the Jets job?

“The answer is no. That’s also something I’m not going to go into. The most succinctly I can say is: I needed to be off the bench for me personally.”

You’ve spent much of the season changing the system and style of this team. What can you say about how players bought?

“They’ve been just wonderful. Really. And for me, that’s the biggest impact players like Tkachuk and Bennett have had on our team. It suits their games. There’s buy-in, of course. , but I have a bunch of players here who can play that way, who can play that strong. They do. So we had enough players here who do. And it’s just a natural progression of strong teams . That’s all.

Explain exactly what the new system, the new style really is. Does it just go from a more east-west to north-south pattern?

“Easiest way to explain it is: we were mostly a top team last year. Brilliant at that. Really good at that. For the most part, well, I have to qualify it a bit Rush play disappears in the playoffs. I’m telling you now, except it’s pretty obvious that it still exists. Historically, though, the chances of rushing go down. So you can still be a pretty good team from rush, but we needed to develop another element of our game that we just didn’t at the time.”

As you mentioned, Tkachuk and Bennett are key in this regard. How much does their swagger bring confidence to the rest of the team?

“I would change the word from ‘swagger’ to ‘intensity’. Because I think there’s an idea or a story about these two guys. Nick Cousins there like a line. He’s been great for both of these guys. They just play with a very consistent intensity, and they almost don’t need to cheer themselves up to do that.”

How did Tkachuk endear himself to you and the organization so quickly after being acquired in a trade (July 22) with the Calgary Flames?

“I was new here too. I had been here for a week and Matthew had decided to come in. And one of the equipment managers came in and said, ‘He’s taken us all out to dinner with our families. ‘ It comes from a long understanding of the importance of support people. I put coaches in that category too. Guys who wear suits. Guys who wear tracksuits. Girls who work for our team. Everything. people here, it’s only natural to think he’s just a naturally caring person. Not what I expected. I have the Winnipeg-Calgary thing there when I was with the Jets and he was with the Flames. I had some interesting words for him at the time. What I found out here: He’s a wonderful, wonderful teammate. He’s not just a player, he’s is a teammate for everyone.”

How important is this current playoff race to the health of the franchise, the fan base, and the direction in which the two are headed?

“In our market, we’re always looking to add fans. But I think the biggest impact… well, look at Carolina and how that building is always sold out. After Jimmy Rutherford led that team for four or five years, it has become a [heck] of a franchise. For our group, what I think it will do is solidify the Panthers fans who have come and been a part of it. Of course, you want to grow the game and reach other fans in the market. But the people who have the jerseys, the people who have the subscriptions, they get the reward for that investment. And that keeps them fans for at least 10 years hopefully, right? It’s about people who have been with you for so long and get a reward. You deserved it.”

Do you think there will be many Maple Leafs fans in the building, even if ticket purchases were limited to US addresses earlier in the week?

“The Maple Leafs will be well represented. It is a function of the great state of Florida. There are people from all over North America who live here, and many of them support the teams they grew up with.

Finally, having coached in Winnipeg and Toronto, you know and understand the pressure in those markets. Given that the Maple Leafs might be feeling a bit of a heat after two home losses, how imperative is it to get a quick start in Game 3 and put the pedal to the metal from the get-go?

“I’m going to answer that a little differently than you posed your question. We’ve just played nine games in a row. One game turns an inch. Inside the post vs outside the post. A pass pass vs miss. We haven’t dominated one of those nine games. It’s not a Panthers thing, it’s a playoff hockey thing. So the mantra is pedal hard every time, not just in this series. Nothing changes. The puck drops, you go as hard as you can, that’s all.”

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